so you want to read french books

C’est parti pour l’aventure !

It is no surprise that I am French, I’ve written about it several times now (and if you didn’t know, read my introduction post!). Thus, approximately half of the books I read are written in French — some are translations from foreign novels, others are French creations. And honestly? I have no idea how well our French novels — besides our classics such as Hugo, Camus, or Saint-Exupéry — are doing in other parts of the world.

So today, I’d like to share with you, and mostly to recommend you, some French works of fiction I read and loved and that have been translated into English.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

Okay so I’ve only read the first volume of Culottées by Pénélope Bagieu — there are 2, but the English edition contains both in one book — but how can I not love it? This is an extremely important book which, sadly, teaches us a lot about women of the past. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World is a series of short cartoons about women who changed the world, be it with their scientific discoveries, their rule over a country, or simply by being brave enough to stand up against (male) oppression.

Throughout history and across the globe, one characteristic connects the daring women of Brazen: their indomitable spirit. Against overwhelming adversity, these remarkable women raised their voices and changed history.

With her one-of-a-kind wit and dazzling drawings, celebrated graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu profiles the lives of these feisty female role models, some world-famous, some little known. From Nellie Bly to Mae Jemison or Josephine Baker to Naziq al-Abid, the stories in this comic biography are sure to inspire the next generation of rebel ladies.

    What I liked about it:
  • The drawing style
  • The author’s humor
  • Discovering so many wonderful women’s stories
    Why you should read it:
  • You like reading biographies
  • You’d like to read biographies but lack the time
  • You want to know more about extraordinary women

Lie With Me

This one, much like any other novel by Philippe Besson, was recommended to me by a close friend whom I entirely trust with her bookish recs (the same one who recommended to me The Heart’s Invisible Furies). I was certainly not disappointed with this one, and thanks to her, Besson became one of my fav French authors — his writing style! He’s saying so much in so little words, his way of writing seeming so easy and yet being so beautiful. Starting reading his work by Lie With Me was a good idea, as he sometimes refers to it in his other novels — most of his books are what we French call autofiction: a mix of autobiography and fiction.

We drive at high speed along back roads, through woods, vineyards, and oat fields. The bike smells like gasoline and makes a lot of noise, and sometimes I’m frightened when the wheels slip on the gravel on the dirt road, but the only thing that matters is that I’m holding on to him, that I’m holding on to him outside.

Just outside a hotel in Bordeaux, Philippe chances upon a young man who bears a striking resemblance to his first love. What follows is a look back at the relationship he’s never forgotten, a hidden affair with a gorgeous boy named Thomas during their last year of high school. Without ever acknowledging they know each other in the halls, they steal time to meet in secret, carrying on a passionate, world-altering affair.

Dazzlingly rendered in English by Ringwald in her first-ever translation, Besson’s powerfully moving coming-of-age story captures the eroticism and tenderness of first love—and the heartbreaking passage of time.

    What I liked about it:
  • The author’s way of writing
  • The romance
  • Having my heart broken
    Why you should read it:
  • This is a mlm ownvoices
  • You’re in search for short novels
  • You like having your heart broken too

Claudine at School

I read Claudine at School by Colette at university, a few years ago. Usually, I really dislike books that school forces me to read, but this one? Oh, I loved this one. It’s the first book in a series written by Colette for her husband Willy — he took all the glory before she claimed back her work, and France still credits him… — and it is mostly inspired by her own adventures she lived as a little girl. I didn’t get to read her other works yet, but I love the way Colette writes! And if you wanna know more about this sapphic feminist icon, you should also watch the movie with Keira Knightley, Colette by Wash Westmoreland!

Claudine is a head strong, clever and extremely mischievous schoolgirl. Along with her friends the lanky Anais, the cheerful Marie and the prim Joubert twins Claudine wreaks havoc on her small school. Always clever, witty and charming Claudine is more than a match for her formidable headmistress as they fight for the attention of the pretty assistant Aimee. The horrors of examinations and good-humoured bullying are the backdrops in this immensely funny and delightful novel with which Colette established the captivating character of Claudine. Through the games, the fun and the intricacies of school life Claudine emerges as a true original; lyrical and intelligent she is one of the twentieth century’s most beguiling emancipated women.

    What I liked about it:
  • Witty and mischievous Claudine
  • A simple school girl story like the one I read as a child
  • It’s fun!
    Why you should read it:
  • Claudine is a monument and you definitely want to check that one out
  • It’s an easy and light-hearted read
  • Read more books about sapphic writers!

The Mystery of Henri Pick

I read The mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos at the beginning of the year and I just: loved it. I saw the movie a few years ago and I loved it just the same. If you like mystery, books, Bretagne, and characters that don’t get along, then this book is for you. And it’s super funny! Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be that funny, but it made reading it even more enjoyable. And can we talk about this beautiful English cover?

In the small town of Crozon in Brittany, a library houses manuscripts that were rejected for publication: the faded dreams of aspiring writers. Visiting while on holiday, young editor Delphine Despero is thrilled to discover a novel so powerful that she feels compelled to bring it back to Paris to publish it. The book is a sensation, prompting fevered interest in the identity of its author – apparently one Henri Pick, a now-deceased pizza chef from Crozon. Sceptics cry that the whole thing is a hoax: how could this man have written such a masterpiece? An obstinate journalist, Jean-Michel Rouche, heads to Brittany to investigate.

By turns farcical and moving, The Mystery of Henri Pick is a fast-paced comic mystery enriched by a deep love of books – and of the authors who write them.

    What I liked about it:
  • A book about books!
  • It’s really funny
  • The whole mystery and its resolution
    Why you should read it:
  • It’s very easy and quick to read
  • It. is. funny.
  • It will develop even further your love for books

Special mention for these books I haven’t read yet

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These three books (and their sequels) are huge best sellers in France and I have yet to read them. The Truth about the Harry Québert Affair, by Joel Dicker, and The Great Swindle, by Pierre Lemaitre, even got their own tv and movie adaptations! And La Passe-Miroir series is currently considered the biggest French YA fantasy saga right now. They’re all three huge successes, and you should definitely check them out too.

Do you read novels translated from French?
What are your favorites French books?

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