Tuesday, September 30, 2008

France's New Craze: The Literary Smackdown

The French publisher Flammarion kickstarted what looks to be a trend by commissioning an exchange of letters between sworn enemies, the novelistic uber-cynic Michel Houellebecq and philosopher-king Bernard-Henri Levy.

The book is appropriately entitled Public Enemies and is getting a whopping 100,000 copy first printing, largely in the hope that it will attract enough interest to top the other 630 books being published during la rentree litteraire.

Publishers: Take note. This could be the start of an entirely new genre. John Thronhill, Paris editor of the Financial Times certainly thinks so.

The whole idea strikes me as a return to the days when book review letters-to-the editor pages were still must reads, largely because of the ongoing caustic exchanges between writers who couldn't stand the sight of each other and were often trying to sleep with each other's spouses.

It's just the sort of thing the late Norman Mailer excelled at.

Unfortunately, today so many writers are metaphorically already in-bed with each other -- recommending each other for awards, blurbs, academic residencies and generally keeping a closed, benighted circle. I suspect most publishers would struggle to entice two writers to really duke it out -- that is, unless they have truly titanic egos.

Tell me, who would you most like to see paired up?

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