A Certain Smile


Françoise Sagan - 1955
    Sagan's second novel tells the story of Dominique, a bored twenty-year-old law student at the Sorbonne in mid-1950's Paris, who embarks on a love affair with a middle-aged man.

Southern Mail


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - 1929
    The book is also a poignant reminiscence of a tragic affair, in which the uncertainties of love and flight enhance the mystery of one another. Translated by Curtis Cate.

Young Once


Patrick Modiano - 1981
    It was his breakthrough novel, in which he stripped away the difficulties of his earlier work and found a clear, mysteriously moving voice for his haunting stories of love, nostalgia, and grief. It has also been called “the most gripping Modiano book of all” (Der Spiegel).   Odile and Louis are leading a happy, bucolic life with their two children in the French countryside near the Swiss mountains. It is Odile’s thirty-fifth birthday, and Louis’s thirty-fifth birthday is a few weeks away. Then the story shifts back to their early years: Louis, just freed from his military service and at loose ends, taken up by a shady character who brings him to Paris to do some work for a friend who manages a garage; Odile, an aspiring singer, at the mercy of the kindness and unkindness of strangers. They move through a Paris saturated with the crimes and secrets of the past but breathing hopes for the future; they find each other and struggle together to create what, looking back, will have been their youth.

Swann's Way


Marcel Proust - 1913
    But since its original prewar translation there has been no completely new version in English. Now, Penguin brings Proust's masterpiece to new audiences throughout the world, beginning with Lydia Davis's internationally acclaimed translation of the first volume, Swann's Way.Swann's Way is one of the preeminent novels of childhood: a sensitive boy's impressions of his family and neighbors, all brought dazzlingly back to life years later by the taste of a madeleine. It also enfolds the short novel "Swann in Love," an incomparable study of sexual jealousy that becomes a crucial part of the vast, unfolding structure of In Search of Lost Time. The first volume of the work that established Proust as one of the finest voices of the modern age — satirical, skeptical, confiding, and endlessly varied in its response to the human condition — Swann's Way also stands on its own as a perfect rendering of a life in art, of the past re-created through memory.

A Void


Georges Perec - 1969
    Ransacking his Paris flat, a group of his faithful companions trawl through his diary for any indication, for any faint hint, as to his location.

Blue Eyes, Black Hair


Marguerite Duras - 1986
    Emotionally charged, sparsely written, and vicariously compelling, Marguerite Duras's novel centers on the desire of a young man for another man he has only glimpsed once, but with whom he falls desperately in love.

Iza's Ballad


Magda Szabó - 1963
    Displaced from her community and her home, Ettie tries to find her place in this new life, but can't seem to get it right. She irritates the maid, hangs food outside the window because she mistrusts the fridge and, in her naivety and loneliness, invites a prostitute in for tea. Iza’s Ballad is the story of a woman who loses her life’s companion and a mother trying to get close to a daughter whom she has never truly known. It is about the meeting of the old-fashioned and the modern worlds and the beliefs we construct over a lifetime.

Angelique


Anne Golon - 1980
    Angélique de Sance de Monteloup, a vibrant twelve-year-old tomboy, is the daughter of a simple nobleman impoverished by taxes and other burdens. Angélique joins the local peasant children in their games, ranges the ancient forests and swamps of Poitou and when bandits visit destruction and rapine on the humble villagers, our heroine's leadership qualities come to the fore for the first time. The book also tells of Angélique's first meetings with two crucial characters - King Louis XIV of France and Joffrey. One of the scenes in the book sees Angélique and Joffrey attend the wedding of Louis XIV and his queen, Marie-Therese. As Angélique and Joffrey tangle with powerful forces, it is a classic and gripping adventure story, but we also learn about the couple's tender and often unpredictable relationship. The climax of the book is a decision by the French court which has an impact on the whole of the rest of the story - destined to move to the dangerous streets of Paris for the second book...

The Diary of a Chambermaid


Octave Mirbeau - 1900
    But a man like Monsieur?" -- from THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAIDThe famous anarchist and art critic Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917) inspired three film versions (Jean Renoir, Bunuel and Benoit Jacquot) with his often forgotten classic THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID. Telling the story of Celestine R., an amoral fisherman's daughter whose motto is live and let live (if you can survive), Mirbeau reveals that "when one tears away the veils and shows them naked, people's souls give off such a pungent smell of decay."Badly subtitled by the publisher as part of "The Naughty French Novel Series," it is not erotic fiction at all, but rather a literary accomplishment. Series editor John Baxter, the author of WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS, contributed a thoughtful introduction.

Free Fall


William Golding - 1959
    I got there in the one movement my body made. My body had many hairs on legs and belly and chest and head, and each had its own life; each inherited a hundred thousand years of loathing and fear for things that scuttle or slide or crawl." from Free FallSammy Mountjoy, artist, rises from poverty and an obscure birth to see his pictures hung in the Tate Gallery. Swept into World War II, he is taken as a prisoner-of-war, threatened with torture, then locked in a cell of total darkness to wait. He emerges from his cell like Lazarus from the tomb, seeing infinity in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour. Transfigured by his ordeal, he begins to realize what man can be and what he has gradually made of himself through his own choices. He determines to find the exact point at which the accumulated weight of those choices has deprived him of free will.

Astragal


Albertine Sarrazin - 1965
    "L'astragale" is the French word for the ankle bone Albertine Sarrazin's heroine Anne breaks as she leaps from her jail cell to freedom. As she drags herself down the road, away from the prison walls, she is rescued by Julien, himself a small-time criminal, who keeps her hidden. They fall in love. Fear of capture, memories of her prison cell, claustrophobia in her hideaways: every detail is fiercely felt.Astragal burst onto the French literary scene in 1965; its fiery and vivacious style was entirely new, and Sarrazin became a celebrity overnight. But as fate would have it, Sarrazin herself kept running into trouble with the law, even as she became a star.She died from a botched surgery at the height of her fame. Sarrazin's life and work (her novels are semi-autobiographical) have been the subject of intense fascination in France; a new adaptation of Astragal is currently being filmed. Patti Smith, who brought Astragal to the attention of New Directions, contributes an enthusiastic introduction to one of her favorite writers.

Betty Blue


Philippe Djian - 1985
    This is a full-fledged lovers' tragedy between a drifter-turned-writer and the fatally flawed Betty, his muse and obsessive promoter.

Zazie in the Metro


Raymond Queneau - 1959
    All she really wants to do is ride the metro, but finding it shut because of a strike, Zazie looks for other means of amusement and is soon caught up in a comic adventure that becomes wilder and more manic by the minute. In 1960 Queneau's cult classic was made into a hugely successful film by Louis Malle. Packed full of word play and phonetic games, 'Zazie in the Metro' remains as stylish and witty today as it did back then.

Texaco


Patrick Chamoiseau - 1992
    The shantytown established by Marie-Sophie is menaced from without by hostile landowners and from within by the volatility of its own provisional state. Hers is a brilliant polyphonic rendering of individual stories informed by rhythmic orality and subversive humor that shape a collective experience.A joyous affirmation of literature that brings to mind Boccaccio, La Fontaine, Lewis Carroll, Montaigne, Rabelais, and Joyce, Texaco is a work of rare power and ambition, a masterpiece.

Autumn in Peking


Boris Vian - 1947
    But nevertheless Vian was a great songwriter, playwright, singer, jazz critic and, of course novelist so it should have been Boris instead of Jack. Vian's 1947 novel Autumn in Peking (L'Automne a Pekin) is perhaps Vian's most slapstick work, with an added amount of despair in its exotic recipe for a violent cocktail drink. The story takes place in the imaginary desert called Exopotamie where all the leading characters take part in the building of a train station with tracks that go nowhere. Houses and buildings are destroyed to build this unnecessary structure - and in Vian's world waste not, make not. In Alistair Rolls' pioneering study of Vian's novels, "The Flight of the Angels," he expresses that Exopotamie is a thinly disguised version of Paris, where after the war the city started changing its previous centuries of architecture to something more modern. Yes, something dull to take the place of what was exciting and mysterious. Vian, in a mixture of great humor and unequal amount of disgust, introduces various 'eccentric' characters in this 'desert' adventure, such as Anne and Angel who are best friends; and Rochelle who is in love and sleeps with Anne, while Angel is madly in love with her. Besides the trio there is also Doctor Mangemanche; the archeologist Athanagore Porphyroginite, his aide, Cuivre; and Pipo - all of them in a locality similar to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, where there is a tinge of darkness and anything is possible, except for happiness.