Jean-Paul Dubois Wins Goncourt Prize With Melancholy Prison Novel
Jean-Paul Dubois won the Goncourt Prize, France’s most prestigious literary award, in a ceremony on Monday at the Paris restaurant Drouant.
Published in August, Mr. Dubois’s novel “Tous les hommes n’habitent pas le monde de la même façon” (“All Men Do Not Live in the Same Way”) is a story narrated by a man languishing in a Canadian prison for an unknown crime.
The Agence France-Presse news agency called it “an affecting and nostalgic novel of lost happiness.” The French magazine L’Obs called it “basically perfect.”
Philippe Claudel, one of the jurors, called the novel a masterpiece, “full of humanity, melancholy, irony.” In a telephone interview, he said the North American setting of many of Mr. Dubois’s novels reflected paradoxical French attitudes toward the continent: “We are fascinated by you, and at the same time we are very critical.”
A former newspaper reporter, Mr. Dubois has told interviewers that he writes fiction only during the month of March. Only one of Mr. Dubois’s 21 books, “French Life,” has been translated into English.
The prize comes with an award of only 10 euros, about $11, but winners generally experience enormous increases in sales and prestige.
The winner is selected by 10 members of the Goncourt Academy. Mr. Dubois won in the second round of voting, with six votes against four for the general favorite, Amélie Nothomb, a Belgian writer who has published a book every year since 1992 but has never won the Goncourt. Her shortlisted novel, “Soif,” imagines the final days of Jesus Christ.
In recent years, the jury has chosen books about the rise of Hitler, hopeless teenagers growing up in a deindustrialized region of France and a nanny who murders the children in her care.
Eric Vuillard’s 2017 book, “L’Ordre du Jour” (The Order of the Day), was a look at companies complicit in Hitler’s rise. But it contained a larger message, he said, about how the concentration of money and power is “dangerous for everybody.”
The 2018 winner, a portrait of teenagers from working-class families growing up in a deprived region of France in the 1990s, is set to be published in the United States in April, with the title “The Children Who Came After Them.”
The 2016 winner,“A Perfect Nanny” by Leïla Slimani, quickly became a best seller in France and has been adapted into a movie.
An initial contender for this year’s prize was “Orléans,” an autobiographical novel about childhood mistreatment, by the writer Yann Moix, who detailed the physical and psychological abuse he said he had suffered from his parents. His family contests the portrait. “In his life, my brother has only two obsessions: winning the Goncourt Prize and annihilating me,” his brother wrote in an open letter for the newspaper Le Parisien.
But after anti-Semitic drawings and texts that Mr. Moix had done in his youth were uncovered in a weekly magazine, the Goncourt jury did not shortlist the book. “If we put him on the Goncourt list, inevitably all the social networks are going to accuse us of promoting anti-Semitism,” Bernard Pivot, the chair of the Goncourt Academy, said at the time.
Elian Peltier contributed reporting.
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