My Favorite French Books from 2021

I read a lot of amazing French books in 2021. Some gripping French novels, stories of fantastic women, essays…

And as the year comes to an end, I’d like to share mes coups de cœur (= my favorites) with you.

(Many of them had been recommended by French writer & cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu. Click here to see her Instagram.)

C’est parti !

Index:
1) My French books in 2021: Page turners
2) My French books in 2021: A bit different
3) My French books in 2021: Sociology
4) My French books in 2021: Women stories
5) My French books in 2021: On child abuse

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1) My French books in 2021: Page turners

It’s the second book of a trilogy, between the excellent Au revoir là-haut (The Great Swindle) about a WW1 veteran, and Miroir de nos peines (“Mirror of our sorrows” literally). Au revoir là-haut got a film adaptation (See You Up There in English), and Couleurs de l’incendie is poised to have one as well.

Everything about this trilogy is amazing, and most of it won prestigious awards.

 

 

 

 

 

  • La carte postale – Anne Berest
    The author received une carte postale (= a postcard) that led her to retrace her family’s history, from their Russian roots to the gas chambers – and her grandmother’s life after that. It’s an investigation, a family novel, and a personal quest of meaning of what it means to be “Jewish” in her non-religious life.

The extra mile : I’m told there are parallels with Sainte Marguerite-Marie et moi by Clémentine Beauvais. The young, feminist, liberal author investigates the life of her ancestor, a mystical Catholic saint who struggled with her own demons. Lighter and funnier than La carte postale.

  • Soif – Amélie Nothomb
    Amélie Nothomb is a very famous, very prolific writer from French-speaking Belgium. Her 28th novel “Soif” (= “Thirst”) tells the story of the Passion of Christ, as narrated by Jesus. It’s irreverent and insightful, funny and tragic.

It reminded me of L’Évangile selon Pilate (Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt), the story of a thorough investigation as told by Pontius Pilate about that man that, according to his disciples, came back to life…

Extra mile : An in-depth review of Soif in audio format (with written recap) from the radio show Le Masque et La Plume. This show reviews every Sunday the latest plays and movies (“Le Masque” = the mask) or latest novels (“La Plume” = the quill, the pen). It’s a good podcast if you’re confident enough with real spoken French!

2) My French books in 2021: A bit different

  • Honoré et moi – Titiou Lecoq
    Titiou Lecoq is the author of the funny Les Morues and the insightful feminist essay Libérées !. In Honoré et moi, she writes about XIXth-century famous French writer Honoré de Balzac, his many mistakes and failures, and the parallels she sees with her own modern life.

Extra mile: Balzac is a classic French author, his work is part of the French culture cannon. He had a keen eye for society and human nature, and what he called La Comédie Humaine (“The Comedy of Man”), as he named his main series of work (more than 90 novels, essays, and tales!)
Before reading his sophisticated writing, you can also watch French movies adapted from his novels. Two of them were released in 2021 alone: Eugénie Grandet and Illusions Perdues.

  • La Honte – Annie Ernaux
    I’m an avid reader of Annie Ernaux. “La Honte” (= “Shame”) is a short autobiographical novel, telling the story of her strict upbringing, her parents’ efforts to escape poverty, and the familial violence that ended her childhood.

 

Extra mile: By the same author, I loved La guerre n’a pas un visage de femme (War’s Unwomanly Face), that gives a voice to more than 200 women out of the 500 000 who became soldiers in the Red Army during WWII.

3) My French books of 2021: Essays and sociology

 

Extra mile : I also recommend Le genre du capital – Céline Bessière, Sibylle Gollac (“The Gender of Capital”), on how women are often disadvantaged in building wealth and capital.

 

Extra mile :
The same sociologists also wrote Les Ghettos du gotha (about segregation by wealth); the comic book artist, Marion Montaigne, is famous for her series of science popularization “Tu mourras moins bête” (“You’ll die less dumb”). This series also got its TV animated adaptation: click here to watch (on Youtube).

4) My French books of 2021: Women stories

  • Les femmes aussi sont du voyage – Lucie Azema
    “Women can travel too” is a gripping book on women’s travels – how it’s being discouraged, the women who went travelling anyway, and how their experiences (and writings) differed from those of men.

 

 

  • Fille – Camille Laurens
    A novel about womanhood, and around the many meanings of the French word “fille”. It can mean “daughter”, “girl”, “spinster”, “prostitute”… Camille Laurens reflects on the experiences that shaped her as a woman.

 

 

5) My French books of 2021: On child abuse

Only read those if you’re ready to get depressed! But they’re important and enlightening.

 

 

Extra mile :
Ou peut-être une nuit, a podcast in six episodes, about incest and the silence around it. Tremendous work. Its name (“Or maybe one night”) comes from a line in the famous song L’Aigle Noir by French singer Barbara, who revealed in her posthumous autobiography that she had been molested by her father. Some people interpreted the “black eagle” from her song as a memory of that abuse.

***

Anyway, learn more about good French book, and comic books, and funnier things, with these other lessons on Comme une Française !


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Join the conversation!

  • I really loved hearing how passionate you are about your reading. To hear that some of the books changed your life is fantastic! I might not get around to reading these particular titles, but your intense engagement has inspired me to read more over these end-of-year holidays.

  • Thanks Geraldine
    It’s always very pleasant to discover new books 🙂
    I am really fond of old literature like Zola, Balzac, and Victor Hugo.
    These authors are classics and if fluent in french can teach a lot on the language and past french culture 😉
    What do you think?

  • Hi Geraldine and group, Talking about books – does anyone know where I can still access your readings of La Belle au bois dormant? – They were fantastic and I would like to be able to access them all again. Many thnaks

  • Would an intermediate level student of French understand these books ? It gets tiring to sit with a dictionary.

  • Le genre du capital – Céline Bessière, Sibylle Gollac (“The Gender of Capital”) is possibly the only one I would be tempted to try that said I would want to read first the following book:
    Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men Kindle Edition by Caroline Criado Perez. (Not fiction unfortunately)
    I have heard so much about the book that is good (from crash test dummies and thus seat belts etc were based on and thus designed for men and much much more). I will post links as a reply

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