In his second novel, the young lawyer and author Abel Quentin paints a portrait of our time and the generational gap around anti-racist struggles. A funny, essential and topical work. It has sold 40,000 copies in France. Translation rights have been sold for Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Latvian and Slovak.
BIEF: Le Voyant d'Étampes (The Fortune Teller from Étampes) was received with great enthusiasm in France. In his column, Frédéric Beigbeder openly expressed his admiration for this young author who has written, according to him, "the great cancel culture novel".
Élisa Rodriguez, you are responsible for the foreign rights for the Humensis group, could you briefly describe this book?
Élisa Rodriguez: In the early 1980s, Jean Roscoff was a promising young intellectual: graduate of France’s Ecole Normale Superior, SOS Racisme activist, and dandy in his free time. Thirty-five years later, he is an alcoholic academic, divorced and out-of-work. He decides to resume his early work on a mysterious American poet who consorted with Sartre and Beauvoir before killing himself behind the wheel of his car at the bottom of the Essonne, in the early 1960s. Jean started writing of The Fortune Teller from Étampes, an essay that he saw as his last chance. On the face of it, there was nothing that would give rise to any criticism... But, as soon as the book was published, a blog post reproached him for having ignored that the poet was black. From then on, social networks and the media heat up, and the descent into hell begins. Abel Quentin paints a portrait of contemporary times. It is an essential novel about a hot topic.
BIEF: Why is this an “essential” book as you call it?
Élisa Rodriguez: It’s essential because it brilliantly describes the generational gap between the young people of the 80s and those of today. It explains, in particular, their clashes on identity issues, and the important role that social networks play in the way they relate to the outside world. One of the strong points of the novel is that it is not moralistic and does not take sides. Though it is, in some respects, a "very French" novel that depicts the cultural world of France yet it nevertheless manages to be universal as the topics it addresses are current and global.
BIEF: Who is this novel for?
Élisa Rodriguez: For readers of contemporary literature who are interested in criticisms of contemporary society and an acerbic yet humoristic tone.
BIEF: What about this work has appealed to the French press and readers?
Élisa Rodriguez: The novel was praised by the press, and especially Frédéric Beigbeder who took a real shine to it and wrote of "the rise of an extraordinary writer". It has shown up on many literary prize lists (Goncourt, Femina, Renaudot...) and was awarded the Prix de Flore and the Prix Maison Rouge. Readers also appreciate the subject matter and the authors "corrosive tone". Here are just a couple of quotes from the Babelio website comments: "Abel Quentin offers a clear and knowledgeable and even terrifyingly accurate x-ray view of our society’s evolution from the crisis of universalism, generational mutations, identity drifts to the violence of social network lynching.” "The tone reminded me of David Lodge.»
BIEF: In which countries have you sold the rights?
Élisa Rodriguez: The rights to this novel have, to date, been sold in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Latvian and Slovak languages. Many foreign publishers have been seduced by Abel Quentin's style, often comparing him to Philip Roth. They appreciate that the novel plays with simple visions and yet is extremely powerful.
BIEF: How did the rights sales come about? Was there one that led to the others?
Élisa Rodriguez: We quickly perceived the potential of Abel Quentin's novel, with its very contemporary subject and Houellebecquian anti-hero. Scouts took to it quickly and they took it to their customers. The first sale was in July, for the Spanish rights, even before the novel was published.
Interview by Katja Petrovic