Over at Weird Fiction Review, Edward Gauvin profiles French author André Pieyre de Mandiargues:
In case you missed it over the holidays, Words Without Borders, the online magazine of international literature, ran an issue whose theme was “The Fantastic” for the final month of 2011, featuring work from Slovenia, Japan, Turkey, Malta, India (Urdu), Spain, China, and France. Highlights include a Scottish castle haunted by the Bosnian conflict, a bus with its own itinerary, and a cookbook for sprites. In other stories, a dreamy child creates her own universe, and a man witnesses his own death. If you haven’t visited yet, you should check it out!
My contribution to that December issue was André Pieyre de Mandiargues’ story“The Red Loaf”. It’s honestly one of the more difficult translations I’ve done, due largely to the baroque prose style for which Mandiargues is justly celebrated. Over at my blog, I briefly recount the story’s publication history. The following sketch is meant as a brief introduction to the life and work of one of France’s great midcentury fabulists, working in the vein of a Surrealism-tinged fantastic.
Who was André Pieyre de Mandiargues? Born in Paris in 1909, he lost his father to the First World War. His childhood memories of his mother were of a widow in black. A stammer crippled his social development. Close friends from an early age with Henri Cartier-Bresson, the pair explored first the pleasure houses of Pigalle and then all of Europe, on road trips where the would-be painter Bresson converted to the religion of the lens. (Bresson often made his friend backtrack for the perfect vantage, glimpsed in passing, which Bresson would then disdain.) Cartier-Bresson, with his penchant for geometry, preferred Florence, but Venice was the love of Mandiargues the dandy (who threatened to throw his friend’s camera into the canal). Later, he drove alone from Paris to Constantinople in a Buick with a revolver in the glove compartment. One thinks of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Ford Mustang”, whose lyrics, a litany of the car’s contents, include “a Browning” and “a collection of Edgar Poe.” On his way back, he met the twenty year old Leonora Carrington, who had just left England to move in with Max Ernst. – continue reading.
French author Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud has a new story, The Excursion (translated by Edward Gauvin) online at Joyland. Chateaureynaud is one of the leading French writers of fantastic fiction, and his first collection in English, A Life on Paper: Stories has recently been published by Small Beer Press. The book contains 22 stories, and is translated by Edward Gauvin.
Here is a long – and fascinating – interview with Edward Gauvin.
I think it highly unlikely any English speaker would have heard of him before Words Without Borders published “Delaunay the Broker” in 2005. I can count on one hand the number of times his name appears in an English language publication before that: World Literature Today, the French Review, the Times Literary Supplement, andPaths to Contemporary French Literature (the latter two both in articles written by John Taylor). He had no Wikipedia entry in English, which is a contemporary standard for anonymity.
Even after “Delaunay,” Châteaureynaud appeared mostly in literary journals that don’t attract the attention of a wide or genre audience. It wasn’t till “Icarus Saved from the Skies” got picked up by F&SF that I think he got some attention in the blogosphere. He’s been translated into thirteen other languages, but in many ways English remains the gateway language. I hope that with this book, his presence in English and elsewhere is just beginning.
On French SF:
French sf is still probably best known for kicking off sf way back with Jules Verne. There’s a very specific French sf tradition—like Andrevon, Klein, Wul, Pelot, Ayerdhal, Dunyach, writers all to be found in various English anthologies—that arguably grows out of Barjavel, France’s Bradbury. This is more sf as we American readers think of it—space travel, apocalypse, alien races—though arguably the themes are less technological and more hard-humanities.
The fantastic, as differentiated from fantasy in general, is a very specific vein born of the transition from Romantic to Modern. In Tzvetan Todorov’s famous formulation, the fantastical tale forces the reader’s hesitation between natural (psychological) and supernatural (marvelous) explanations for the apparently impossible events that befall its protagonist. The genre is thus usually said to lie between the marvelous (fairy and folk tales, magical creatures, secondary worlds) and psychological suspense. Poe and Hoffmann are among the early practitioners whose work laid the foundations for the genre.
Here are biographical notes on both author and translator:
Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is the author of nine novels, two young adult novels, and over one hundred short stories. Despite a lifelong fear of flying, he has been to Peru—his only time on a plane—and lived to pen a travel memoir about the experience. He is the recipient of the prestigious Prix Renaudot, Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle (for short stories), Prix Giono, Prix Valéry Larbaud, and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. His work has been translated into fourteen languages.
Born in Paris in 1947, Châteaureynaud was a solitary child who became a voracious and unprejudiced reader, ingesting Treasure Island as avidly as Lady Chatterley’s Lover.He studied English at the Sorbonne, discovering Stevenson, Shelley, Stoker, and Wells, and later took a degree in library science from the École Nationale Supérieure des Bibliothèques. In 1968, he embarked on a series of odd jobs—including antiques dealer and auto assembly line laborer—that comprised, in his words, an “apprenticeship in human nature,” cementing his sympathy for the marginal, outcast figures who would become his luckless, well-meaning, Everyman heroes and narrators. Grasset published his first collection in 1973, Le fou dans la chaloupe.
With novelist Hubert Haddad, and fellow Goncourt winners Frédéric Tristan and sinologist Jean Lévi, Châteaureynaud is a founding member of the contemporary movement La Nouvelle Fiction: “New” because it rose up against the prevailingly minimalist and confessional tendencies (autofiction) of recent French writing, seeking to rouse it from what critic Jean-Luc Moreau called “the slumber of psychological realism,” and to restore myth, fable, and fairy tale to a place of primacy in fiction.
In 1983 and 1990, Châteaureynaud was a representative of the Foreign Services Ministry to Quebec and then to Greece. He has been consistently involved with the Centre National du Livre and the SGDL (Société des Gens de Lettres de France). He plays an active part in fostering new talent, serving on the juries of such diverse prizes as the Fondation BNP-Paribas Young Writers Award, the international Prix Prométhée de la nouvelle, the Prix Renaudot, and the Prix Renaissance. Châteaureynaud sees his enthusiastic participation in these institutions as a way of repaying the literary community that has allowed him the luxury of dedication to his craft. An Officier des Arts et Lettres of France, he is currently the editorial director of foreign literature at Editions Dumerchez. In 2006, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.
Edward Gauvin has published Châteaureynaud’s work in AGNI Online, The Southern Review, Conjunctions, Harvard Review, Words Without Borders, LCRW, Postscripts, Epiphany, The Café Irreal, Eleven Eleven, Sentence, and The Brooklyn Rail. A graduate of the Iowa Workshop, he has received a Fulbright grant as well as fellowships from the Centre National du Livre, the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) and the Clarion Foundation and residencies from the Maison des Écritures Midi-Pyrénées, Ledig House, and the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. Other translations of his have been featured or are forthcoming in PEN America, Tin House, Interfictions 2, Subtropics, Silk Road, Two Lines, and Absinthe. A consulting editor for graphic literature at Words Without Borders, he translates comics for Archaia, First Second, and Tokyopop. He has lived in Austin, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, New York, Taipei, and Amiens, France.
And here are some more free short stories by Chateaureynaud!
- A Life on Paper (Agni)
- The Only Mortal (Brooklyn Rail)
- Delaunay the Broker (Words without Borders)
- The Pavilion and the Linden (Cafe Irreal)
“Châteaureynaud’s stories are disorienting, bizarre, mythical. The stories don’t end with epiphanies or a tidy wrapping-up. Some of the endings are abrupt, even unsatisfying; they feel more like a beginning. So what? A Life on Paper is fantastic in both meanings: it’s fantastic, as in strange, unreal, weird, imaginary; and it’s fantastic, as in absolutely fucking awesome. People will call A Life on Paper magical realism. A few will call it irrealism. I don’t care what you call it. I just want you to read it.”