Alexis Jenni’s ‘Classic, Accessible French Novel’ Takes the Goncourt

In What's the Buzz by Olivia Snaije

By Olivia Snaije

A 48-year-old biology schoolteacher and writer from Lyon, Alexis Jenni, won the renowned Goncourt Prize yesterday for his first novel, L’art français de la guerre (The French Art of War) published by Gallimard.

Alexis Jenni smiles after his win (Photo: AP)

Jenni said he never expected the book to be published much less win the Goncourt. L’art français de la guerre, which runs through 50 years of French military history, has been selling swiftly since it was published last August and had been on the shortlist for most of the prestigious French literary prizes this fall.

Paris independent bookseller Dominique Mazuet said that Jenni’s book was emblematic of a revival of French literature and is “a classic French novel in style but with the merit of being without a doubt a book of our time and accessible to anyone.”

Jenni was awarded the symbolic ten euros with the prize but winning the Goncourt usually ensures writers average sales of 400,000 copies of their book.

It’s uncommon for a first time novel to win the Goncourt although in 2006 Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones), also published by Gallimard, won the prize.

Until recently, Jenni, who has been writing for 20 years, considered himself a “Sunday writer.” He also has a blog where he posts drawings and short texts: Voyages pas très loin.

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.