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Some of you may already have heard of le prix Goncourt—the most important literary award bestowed to authors writing in French. This prestigious literary award was created in 1892, in the will of author Edmund de Goncourt. Since then, the award has been given in the beginning of November of every year, making it the oldest literary prize in France, too.
Today, le prix Goncourt’s winner for 2017 was announced: Éric Vuillard for his novel L’Ordre du Jour. An ordre du jour is an agenda and the book follows the rice of Hitler in the 1930s and, particularly, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. This is the agenda alluded to in the title.
Vuillard is known for delving deep into the obscure moments of history—and even reimagining the past. He has published several other books, including Tristesse de la terre (Sorrow of the Earth; 2015) and Conquistadors (2009). Both of these titles explore historical events and figures: Tristesse de la terre, which is available in English translation, follows Buffalo Bill in the last of the American Indian wars while Conquistadors follows Francisco Pizzaro and his men across the Andes in the sixteenth century. His latest book before L’Ordre du Jour followed the French Revolution and is titled 14 Juillet.
Vuillard has spoken about how literature allows everything—including reimagining history as we know it. In a recent interview, he stated:
Je pourrais donc les faire tourner à l’infini dans l’escalier de Penrose, jamais ils ne pourraient plus descendre ni monter, ils feraient toujours en même temps l’un et l’autre. Et en réalité, c’est un peu l’effet que nous font les livres … Nos personnages sont dans le palais pour toujours, comme dans un château ensorcelé (…). Nous sommes à la fois partout dans le temps.
“I could thus make [Winston Churchill, Chamberlain, and others during a famous World War II meeting] revolve infinitely in the Penrose staircase, without ever going up or down, they would always be simultaneously doing both. In reality, that’s the effect the books give … Our characters are in the palace forever, as if they were in a spellbound castle … We are at the same time everywhere at once in history.”
L’Ordre du jour sounds like a fascinating book. If you’re interested in reading it in French, you can find it online. Otherwise, you can wait for the English translation that will surely follow. Congratulations monsieur Vuillard!