Jonathan Coe has been awarded prestigious French honour Officier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (The Order of Arts and Letters) from the French Ambassador, who named him "France’s favourite British writer".
Coe received the honour, which recognises people who have "contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world", yesterday evening (22nd June) in Kensington Palace Gardens, where he said, in a nod to the EU referendum: "I very much hope that this week, nothing will further distance the two countries".
Coe, who recently contributed to the “love letter to the British people from Europe”, which emphasised the “bonds of admiration and affection” between European countries, was praised by French Ambassador Sylvie-Agnès Bermann as having "become one of [London's] best portraitists" for French readers and "not only a Francophile, but a Europhile".
The novelist, who is born in Birmingham and known for his satire, is aready the recipient of French literary prizes the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger and the Prix Médicis for his novels What a Carve Up! in 1996 and The House of Sleep in 1998, respectively, and was made Chevalier l'Ordre des Arts and des Lettres (a lower rank of the honour to officier) in 2004.
Bermann said of his work it "provides us with something of a reader's manual for the Britain of today" and that it embodied "a crossover between the political and social melancholies of our two nations", to which she added "what better reasons could we have to be celebrating your work this month, of all months?"
"Your connection to French culture is also an intellectual and political one," Bermann continued, in approval of Coe's commitment to protecting libraries and publishers in the United Kingdom, and his involvement in the Federation of European Publishers’ initiatives.
"Cher Jonathan Coe, in recognition of the wit and zest with which your prose leads us through the complexities of British society, in the name of those many bonds and dreams that are so essential to our differences and to our unity, the French Culture Minister has decided to award you one of the highest distinctions," she said.
Viking publisher Mary Mount said of Coe's latest recognition by the French government "the gesture of friendship and appreciation from the French to a British writer felt particularly poignant in the week of the referendum".
"From What a Carve Up! to Number 11, from Thatcher to the present, Jonathan Coe has brilliantly, and sometimes savagely, observed and satirised this country like few other contemporary novelists. Many readers across Europe (and particularly in France) are avid fans of his work, perhaps, in part, because he is able to illuminate the peculiarities of our nation so vividly. In this extraordinary week of British politics it was incredibly heartening to be present at an occasion that celebrated a sense of mutual respect between our two cultures," said Mount.
All of Coe's books have been translated into French. His 11th novel, Number 11 (Viking) was published in November and Coe has since recently launched a fable with crowdfunding platform Unbound called The Broken Mirror in collaboration with the Italian artist Chiara Coccorese.
Coe said: "In many European countries the fortunes of my books have ebbed and flowed: some books have been much more popular than others. In France this has not been so much the case. If they like me at all, my French readers stick with me, and it’s this loyalty which I value above all. I should mention, too, the loyalty of my publishers Gallimard, who like Penguin in the UK, have published me with unwavering commitment for 23 years, through thick and thin."
In French, he added: "I would like to thank you, Madam Ambassador, for your commitment to literature, especially British literature. I know I'm not the only British writer to have enjoyed your hospitality in recent months. I consider the generosity of French readers to my books, and your generosity to British writers, as a sign of closeness between our two countries; and I very much hope that this week, nothing will further distance the two countries."