Paris is sleeping now during August with the blinds pulled down on businesses en vacances but soon the annual burst of publishing, la rentrée littéraire will explode in France and the event is celebrated in The Independent with a piece about a new novel by a 15-year-old who has written about a 14-year-old who has lost her virginity. Yes, folks, our equivalent of the rentrée is the silly season. The article that we should have read was the one that said what was being published in France just now that was of interest, who were the serious novelists, what was the general literary health of France. Admittedly we heard last week about the new Michel Houellebecq but then he has long been a news item in himself so we expect gossipy broadsheet pieces on him as a matter of course. Given that a million British people are said to be living in France why is its literature so invisible in this country? Why is so little translated? We get the French movies in our art houses so why not more of its contemporary writing?
Recently, the critic and novelist Gabriel Josipovici, was reported as having said that contemporary British writers weren't up to much though, as he explained last week in a letter to the TLS, the reporting of his comments, buried in a serious work of criticism forthcoming from Yale UP, trivialised them. He bravely refused to be dragged on to Newsnight to take part in a shallow staged debate about the merits or otherwise of Amis, Rushdie, McEwan et al. His apparent argument that, in the wake of the great moderns, contemporary writing in Britain doesn't measure up, misses some vital dimension, sounds interesting and highly plausible. So what of the comparable position in France? Will we be told? I doubt it.