Like most western societies, France is going through a period of flux. There are growing paradoxes that are becoming evident in the French society and reflecting themselves in the literature being produced as well.
This makes the present scene in French literary circle quite interesting for literature-lovers like me. But apart from exciting, French literature is challenging also for a person like me who is new to this field. I have to grasp the social reality of the present-day multicultural and multi-racial France to fully understand the import of the literature that has appeared in recent times on the bookstore shelves.
One way of understanding the paradoxes of the modern French society is by looking at those novels which capture it best. And I have found that there is no dearth of them. Plenty of interesting novels have come out in the recent years from French authors which deal with the ironies and contradictions affecting the French society. Let’s take a look at three of them which impressed me the most.
This novel by Michel Houellebecq was released on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks – a coincidence that is more eerie than strange. This novel imagines a France in 2022 when a radical Islamic Party has taken power in France with a Muslim as the president of the republic. Laws like wearing the veil and polygamy are being imposed.
Personally, I find this novel a bit alarmist but then I and others do need to remember that this is what most dystopian novels are like. Realism isn’t their biggest forte. The real task these novels have is to capture the deep-seated fear that people have of things becoming worse than what anybody expected.
The Perfect Nanny
Leila Slimani’s novel was inspired by an incident in New York where a nanny killed two of her infant wards. Not the most attractive topic, isn’t it! But according to me, it isn’t the horrifying act that is at the center of the novel which forms the core of the story. It’s the changing social conditions which are creating new dynamics in the French family that are explored by this novel. With parents more inclined to hire nannies, this is a subject that struck a chord with various people, including me, and eventually let to the author winning the country’s most prestigious literary prize.
Marie Ndiaye’s novel is, according to me, one of the best for exploring the question of racial identity in modern France. This story, which probably falls in the category of magical realism, takes a look at three women from three generations.
The main protagonist in the novel is Clarisse Riviera who keeps the fact that her mother is an unmarried black woman hidden from her family members. She eventually gets murdered by her lover after her husband leaves her. The focus then shifts to the Clarisse’s daughter and her perspective.
Ndiaye, again in my view and not necessarily one shared by others, deals with the issue of race in the most complex and analytic manner than any other author in recent times. It is this quality that recommends the novel to anyone interested in understanding the role of race in modern French Society.