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Daniel Pennac: La petite marchande de prose (Write to Kill)

Benjamin Malaussène is at it again, as the professional scapegoat. This time he is working for an aggressive publisher”Queen” Zabo, whom he affectionately calls Majesty.The story starts with the forthcoming marriage of his eighteen-year old sister, Clara, who is to marry the sixty-year old warden of an open prison, where hardened criminals are encouraged to express themselves artistically. As the family arrives for the wedding ceremony at the prison chapel, they learn that the groom has been murdered by an unknown assailant. After consoling his (pregnant) sister, Malaussène takes on the job of famous author. His employer’s main source of income is the series of financial thrillers published by the anonymous jlb. As sales are flagging, they decide to reveal the author to the public. However, the author is a government minister and cannot reveal his identity so he agrees to let Malaussène to take his place. However, someone is not happy with all of this and decides to start shooting. Is this all connected with the death of Clara’s fiancé? Well, what do you think?

The plot is fun, though contrived but, once again, Pennac writes a fun novel, which emphasizes family values – the extended Malaussène family (though sans mother) swarms over the novel, a liberal attitude to most things, a commendable lack of racism, as the various ethnic groups that now make up France are seamlessly integrated into the Malaussène family and the novel and, last and by no means least, an obsession with big breasts (it is a French novel, after all). The other characters – the Chinese speaking African colleague of Malaussène, the two rival doctors, who hate each other with a passion, the ambiguous minister and his even more ambiguous mother, the police official, Malaussène’s girlfriend, Julie (she of the big breasts) and Malaussène’s family – all liven up this novel.

Publishing history

First published 1989 by Gallimard
First published in English 1999 by Harvill Press
Translated by Ian Monk