Tout ça pour un roman!

Prix Goncourt

Paris, Place Gaillon. 8 November 2010, shortly before 1 p.m.

Who is this man, causing such a media stir?

Michel Houellebecq

REUTERS/photograph by Benoit Tessier

And this one? Same address and time, on 3 November last year?

 photograph of Mathias Enard © Laurence Houot / Culturebox

photograph © Laurence Houot / Culturebox

And all the others who, each year since 1914 on an early November afternoon, have made a circus of the quiet Place Gaillon? Do not be fooled by the rockstar look: These two guys — and a good hundred more — are writers. Yes, “tout ça pour un roman!” as a baffled tourist exclaimed. But not just any novel, cher monsieur. A Goncourt prize-winning novel.

I have no qualms calling the Prix Goncourt “the king of prizes,” for it reigns over no fewer than 2000 literary awards. Rest assured, if you’ve just said “Oh, mon Dieu!,” you’re not alone, and if, like me, you wish to know more about the French obsession with les distinctions et les décorations — and which ones are worth obsessing about, this is most definitely where to go. Or here, for those who’d prefer a much lighter read — in English.

Back to the royal — and unruly — Prix Goncourt. Because he disagreed with the long-established Académie française and its taste for the classical, French writer and publisher Edmond de Goncourt bequeathed his estate to the creation of the Société littéraire des Goncourt, later — and defiantly — dubbed the Académie Goncourt. Awarded every November since 1903, the Prix honors “l’originalité du talent, (les) tentatives nouvelles et hardies de la pensée et de la forme” and makes the winner “an instant millionaire.” Forget about the cash that comes with it — 10 euros, the equivalent of the amount bestowed in 1903 — and think exponential book sales. But of course!

Now, any idea who the rockstar writers are? The first one should look familiar — provided you read Linda’s post. Houellebecq indeed, unusually compliant on his big day. The other is Enard, Mathias de son prénom, and last year’s Goncourt laureate. Five years apart, both happily wrestle their way to Drouant, haut lieu des délibérations du jury located — guess where? — on the Place Gaillon!

Bernard Pivot said it well: “Drouant réconcilie la littérature et l’estomac.” A dining table in the Salon Goncourt of the three-star restaurant has, since 1914, served as the office of les Dix who discuss, deliberate and award their prize while feasting on la haute cuisine. No wonder they’re called les dix couverts — and good thing photographers are no foodies.

Jérôme Ferrari at Drouant/photograph © by François Lafite

Lydie Salvayre at Drouant/photograph © by François Lafite

— Claire

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