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Jean Rouaud: Les champs d’honneur (Fields of Glory)
Rouaud was only a humble newsvendor when he wrote this memoir-cum-novel and not an académicien but he won the Goncourt and went on to fame and fortune. The novel is simple. It harks back to the rural novels of the likes of Giono where rural society and the family are celebrated, rather than derided as modern novels are wont to do. There is not a great deal of plot, simply a superb evocation of the family (going back to World War I). The main characters are the ordinary yet wonderfully eccentric grandfather and the maiden aunt. Grandfather’s strange driving habits, his friendship with the local monk and his wandering off to see some garden, causing the entire village to search for him are just a few of the stories Rouaud treats us to. The aunt’s religious foibles and (of course) implied sexuality get similar loving but witty treatment. It’s not all fun and games as the novel does hearken back to World War I and the losses that the family suffered as a result of the war. But you will remember this novel for its charming evocation of rural France and the family.
First published in French 1990 by Les Editions de Minuit
First published in English 1992 by Arcade