France’s Main Literary Juries Award Prizes in a 12 months of Scandal

PARIS — In its first award since a pedophilia scandal revealed deep-rooted collusion inside its ranks, one in every of France’s prime literary juries prevented the looks of any potential conflicts of curiosity on Monday crowning the novel of a little-known feminine creator from a small publishing home.

Judges of the Renaudot gave the prize for greatest novel to Marie-Hélène Lafon, an outsider of France’s club literary circles. Her e book, “Histoire du fils,’’ was revealed Buchet-Chastel, an organization with an annual catalog of about 50 works and the first-time winner of a serious award.

The jury of the Renaudot has been below intense scrutiny since members acknowledged rewarding the pedophile author Gabriel Matzneff within the essay class in 2013 to assist revive his profession and cheer him up. Its fierce resistance to alter has come to embody the tight grip of a longtime elite on France’s literary establishments.

This 12 months, like many earlier than it, the quick record for the prize was made up of literary insiders whose novels had been revealed main firms and whose ties to a number of of the jurors had been broadly recognized. So the selection of Ms. Lafon was a secure one for a jury girding itself for criticism.

“I’m conscious that there are moral stakes at work behind all this,’’ Ms. Lafon mentioned after the award was introduced over Zoom due to coronavirus restrictions. “The state of affairs is perilous. We’re strolling on a tightrope.’’

However the alternative of Ms. Lafon’s novel was applauded as a recognition of literary high quality specialists and literature followers on social media. The saga spans a century and appears at a household secret that the primary character tries to unravel reconstructing the family tree of his household.

The novel is “a gorgeous piece of labor” from a author whose rural background has lengthy impressed her books, mentioned Marie-Rose Guarnieri, a bookstore proprietor and a critic of France’s main literary juries, on which jurors normally serve for all times. 20 years in the past, Ms. Guarnieri established the Wepler, a literary prize with a jury that adjustments yearly.

However Ms. Guarnier mentioned she didn’t imagine the selection mirrored a profound shift within the Renaudot’s outlook. Over time, the jury has tried to deflect occasional criticism rewarding an unknown creator from a small writer, she mentioned.

“Once they start to appreciate that we will see how they work,” Ms. Guarnieri mentioned, “and particularly the massive conflicts of curiosity that come up from this fashion of choosing books, they make a giant swing within the different course.’’

Reached telephone, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, the president of the Renaudot, declined to remark.

Dominique Bona, the one girl among the many Renaudot’s 9 jurors and a member of the French Academy, informed the Agence France-Presse that her jury had turn out to be a “scapegoat.’’ The jurors, she mentioned, are “genuinely impressed the love all of us have for literature.’’

Following many years of custom, the Renaudot introduced its winner instantly after the Goncourt, France’s prime prize, made its alternative recognized.

The prize for greatest novel went to Hervé Le Tellier, a former journalist, for “L’Anomalie,” a science-fiction thriller that revolves across the double lives of passengers aboard a Paris-New York flight. It was revealed France’s most prestigious publishing home, Gallimard, which has now captured 38 Goncourt awards because the creation of the prize in 1903.

Early this 12 months, a tell-all e book about Mr. Matzneff led to unsettling revelations about collusion contained in the Renaudot jury. The author’s editor, Christian Giudicelli, and pals — all members of the jury — awarded him the prize for greatest essay in 2013. All the Renaudot’s present 9 jurors had been a part of the jury that 12 months.

Mr. Giudicelli has been questioned in an ongoing police investigation into Mr. Matzneff’s pedophilia and has drawn criticism for the position he performed in furthering his buddy’s profession. Activists within the metropolis of Vichy have pressed him to step down from a literary jury financed the native authorities, the place he has additionally lengthy been a juror.

“So long as Mr. Giudicelli will not be suspended, town is formally contemplating suspending our monetary participation within the prize,’’ Frédéric Aguilera, the mayor of Vichy, mentioned in a telephone interview Monday.

The highlight on the Renaudot has additionally raised questions concerning the legitimacy of France’s different prime prizes, together with the Goncourt.

Jurors serve for all times — or till age 80 on the Goncourt — and choose prize winners in a course of rife with conflicts of pursuits. None adhere to the strict requirements of Britain’s Booker or the Pulitzer in america, whose juries change yearly and whose jurors recuse themselves over potential conflicts of curiosity.

Nonetheless, variations exist among the many prime prizes, and the Renaudot suffers from probably the most potential conflicts of pursuits, with 4 of its 9 present jurors working for publishers whose books had been amongst award candidates this 12 months.

The Goncourt is taken into account — in France no less than — the cleanest jury. Alone amongst prime prizes, the Goncourt has carried out reforms, in 2008, that barred jurors from working at a publishing firm and created a compulsory retirement age of 80.

“What’s extraordinary is {that a} reform was vital,’’ mentioned Pierre Assouline, a author and juror on the Goncourt since 2012. “A battle of curiosity on the planet of enterprise is condemned immediately. However not right here.’’

The Renaudot no means thought-about choosing up any of the Goncourt’s adjustments, longtime jurors mentioned. Over the previous 20 years, potential conflicts of curiosity have solely elevated on the jury.

From 2010 to 2019, on common, almost three of the Renaudot jurors shared publishing ties with a laureate for the novel class — up from barely one between 2000 and 2009, in response to an evaluation The New York Occasions.

Although the Goncourt’s reforms had been in need of the requirements on the Booker or Pulitzer, they’d a direct impression on the composition of the prize winners. Earlier than the overhaul, prizes had been monopolized massive publishers with sturdy ties to the Goncourt jurors.

Actes Sud, as soon as a small writer that — on precept — has lengthy refused to permit its editors to serve on juries, had been nearly utterly shut out of the massive awards for many years. However because the 2008 reforms, Actes Sud has scooped up 4 Goncourt prizes, together with in 2012 for Jérôme Ferrari’s novel, “The Sermon on the Fall of Rome.’’

The monetary windfall was quick: Solely 9,700 copies had been offered earlier than the novel made the Goncourt’s first record. Inclusion on the record helped gross sales rise to 52,000, after which they skyrocketed to 370,000 after the award.

“It’s simply remodeled into a straightforward Christmas current,’’ Mr. Ferrari mentioned in a latest interview, referring to the recognition of prize-winning books as vacation items.

Different prime juries, just like the Femina, debated emulating the Goncourt, however in the end determined towards any change, mentioned Christine Jordis, a Femina juror since 1996 and a longtime editor {and professional} reader at Gallimard.

Ms. Jordis mentioned she had led the battle towards barring jurors from working at publishing firms, believing that her years as an editor gave her experience.

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