Sex causes lots of problems for Franzen’s characters. By our count, Freedom featured 94 different references to the word “sex,” including this passage: “One hesitates to ascribe too much explanatory significance to sex, and yet the autobiographer would be derelict in her duties if she didn’t devote an uncomfortable paragraph to it.”
Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Littell’
Roth (photo by Nancy Crampton, via HMH) was nominated for a racy scene in “The Humbling.” Oz, the gamblers’ former favorite for the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature, was nominated for “Rhyming Life and Death.” Rock star Nick Cave earned his nod for “The Death of Bunny Munro,” and his publisher told the Guardian they were pleased with the shortlist appearance.
Here’s a particularly juicy passage from a previous nominee, “The Whole World Over” by Julia Glass. “And then before her inner eye, a tide of words leaped high and free, a chaotic joy like frothing rapids: truncate, adjudicate, fornicate, frivolous, rivulet, violet, oriole, orifice, conifer, aquifer, allegiance, alacrity … all the words this time not a crowding but a heavenly chain … a release of something deep in the core of her altered brain, words she thought she’d lost for good.”
The complete list is after the jump, via the Guardian…
Finally, the Bookseller addresses one of my all-time favorite pet issues of the publishing world: how is it that one book can be a phenomenal success in one country but tank elsewhere – or never get published at all? Think of, say, Richard Powers selling almost 300,000 copies of THE TIME OF OUR SINGING in Germany when before his National Book Award win he was selling in staunchly midlist literary fiction numbers. Or Martina Cole being the top-selling novelist in the UK for years on end, but she hadn’t been able to get a book deal in America until only very recently. Many of these disparities have to do with lack of global appeal (Cole was thought to be a tough sell based on her very Essex-centric voice) or foreign rights agents not being pumped up enough to sell certain properties over others, or the commensurate buying foreign houses not enthusiastic enough to buy. I could go on.
Katherine Rushton focuses her piece specifically on Diane Setterfield‘s THE THIRTEENTH TALE, a big success in the US (staying on the NYT list for weeks on end) but faring far less well in the UK. 14,000 copies sold is fine for a debut novel – but not one that Orion shelled out 800,000 pounds for. So what happened? Well, the Sesalee Hensley touch helped, as did Atria‘s non-stop marketing plan (it worked to earn out the $1 million-plus advance) and the jacket cover worked gangbusters in the US but didn’t go over in the UK, but the true key may be this: publishers point to the book’s romanticized portrayal of England as the key to its raging success in the US, and say that is also precisely what let it down in the UK.
“It encapsulated England in the way that only Americans think of England. Americans love that quintessential English writing, but it is quite mannered in a way,” says the publishing director of one major house. Chatto & Windus publisher Alison Samuel liked the manuscript but thought it was out of touch with real-life England. “There are two incidences towards the end where they drink cocoa. I haven’t drunk cocoa since I was a child. That picture of cocoa-drinking England only appeals outside England.” Or as another rival publisher put it: “It was pretty terrible. There was one review which was very fair and called it a ‘gothic stew’.”
Further down the piece really contrasts UK and American approaches, and prognosticates on the fortunes of Jonathan Littell‘s LES BIENVILLANTES, which will be out in 2008 from Chatto (UK) and HarperCollins (US): “It will do very well,” says one rival publisher. “Nazis sell.” But she predicts less of a take-up in the US. “The American [publishers] saw it as much smaller than we do because they thought it was too European, and it probably wouldn’t appeal to their Jewish audience.” Yeah, no wonder she wanted to be anonymous on that quote…
In many ways, the French literary world operates in a very old-school manner. How else to explain that the vast majority of publishing deals are brokered directly between author and publisher? But the backlash against the roaring success of Jonathan Littell‘s LES BIENVILLIANTES was in part due to the book’s representation by a high-powered literary agent, and as the New York Sun’s Kate Taylor reports, things are about to get even more controversial now that uberagent Andrew Wylie‘s come to town.
With Wylie’s recent announcement in Le Monde that he has signed three French writers – two novelists, Christine Angot and Philippe Djian, and a journalist, Florence Hartmann – is, Taylor says, the equivalent of throwing a hand grenade into the traditional world of French publishing. In Wylie’s view – which he has already laid out in a sharp exchange of letters with the publisher AndrÃ© Schiffrin, of the New Press – this structure is to blame for many of French literature’s ills, from its failure to make a substantial impact abroad to its stylistic solipsism. “[I]f you were trying to buy a company in England, you wouldn’t call your accounting department and have them speak to the accounting department of the company in England. You would go chief executive to chief executive.”
Of course, publishers see things rather differently, especially with regards to the customary 50% stake in subsidiary rights. “This seems huge, but it’s also what allows publishers to take risks on authors and on works that won’t necessarily sell well,” said Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, director of the French publishing house P.O.L. Editeur. “I have the impression that in the U.S., the big publishers only publish books that can be marketed, and the difficult books are published by small presses or university presses, so they are marginalized. In France, the same editors publish unknown authors, and authors who will never sell a lot of books, like poets, and best sellers.”