news | Friday June 17, 2016
A new essay in The Millions magazine hails French author Maylis de Kerangal as “France’s Unlikely Literary Rebel” and argues that her use, in her multiple award-winning novels, of unconventional lexicons and registers bites its thumb at more staid modes of writing:
De Kerangal’s books delight in a lexical mix. Sometimes in her fiction, as in her conversation, de Kerangal vacillates between French and English. … So too, her linguistic register shifts without pause. … De Kerangal has proven that serious themes don’t have to be dealt with in the grave, straightforward manner … rather, she shows that a novel comes alive when it is unconstrained by a single tone or linguistic register. Perhaps de Kerangal’s most meaningful achievement has been to chip away at what it means to be a fiction writer in France, a concept she has struggled with since her adolescence. She has escaped the prescriptive definition of “writer” as narrow and elitist, and in doing so, has created novels that connect with a wider audience.
Read the full essay for direct comments from de Kerangal herself and a fuller exploration by essayist Cody Delistraty of how de Kerangal’s style is changing the French literary landscape.
Another new review in the Montreal Review of Books, written by Aimee Wall and also published early this week, also praises the language in de Kerangal’s most recent novel, Mend the Living – and takes especial note of the quality of translation into English by Jessica Moore:
The narrative is expertly paced … De Kerangal writes in long sentences that heap clause upon clause, descriptive phrases that would seem to be at odds with the efficient, streamlined language of the processes they describe. And yet, by creating the sense of narrating events almost in real time, these long, rhythmic sentences convey something important about the passage of time on a day in which every moment, every detail, is critical. … These seemingly endless sentences occasionally almost teeter over into the melodramatic, but the novel is never mawkish. Jessica Moore’s translation work here is exceptional. French tends to be more forgiving of the endless sentence, the series of clauses, but de Kerangal’s page-long phrases are rendered deftly and gracefully in Moore’s English translation. … Moore’s translation is sensitive and precise.
To experience de Kerangal’s writing for yourself, pick up a copy of one of her novels, published in English as Mend the Living ($19.95) and Birth of a Bridge ($16.95).