On 30 August 2004 a woman wrote a letter to Le Figaro registering her dismay at the number of novels scheduled for publication in the three months that constitute the rentrée littéraire in France each autumn. She confessed that, although an assiduous reader, she rarely found anything of distinction in what was on offer and deplored the lack of true literary worth, let alone devotion to the task in hand. She perceived that this volume of production is little more than sheer economic activity.
This was a worthy and pertinent comment, an alternative reading to the literary pages, in which reviewers are often more complimentary than is entirely justified. It is certain that of the many novels published this season few will merit genuine and serious attention. There was, for example, little discussion of the award of the Prix Goncourt to Laurent Gaudé for Le Soleil des Scorta, apart from the fact that it was published by the relatively obscure Actes Sud. By the same token greater interest surrounded the publishing fortunes of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Fran