Debut novelist wins French Goncourt prize

A first-time French novelist, Alexis Jenni, has won the Goncourt prize for his novel L’art français de la Guerre.

Like Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes, which won France’s most coveted literary award in 2006, the French Art of War was published by Gallimard. The 600-plus page book was published in August to critical acclaim and had been a favourite for the prize for weeks. It has already sold 56,000 copies, on its way to the average of 400,000 for all Goncourt laureates over the past six years, according to market research firm GfK.

Jenni, a 48-year-old life sciences teacher in Lyon, is reported to have described himself as a “Sunday writer”. He has been writing for 20 years, but only insignificant pieces that were either never published or were unsuccessful. He spent five years working on the book, which examines the role of the French army under the German occupation in the Second World War, and in the colonial era in Indochina and in Algeria.

In his blog Voyages pas très loin ("Short-distance journeys"), Jenni sketches daily life in Lyon.