Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, who won the Nobel Prize for literature Thursday, is one of the French writers best known outside his country and one of the most wide-ranging in his choice of subject matter.
He is an avid traveller, and his fictions are as likely to be set in Mexico or the Sahara as in Paris or London.
With his first novel, "Le Proces-Verbal" (1963, The Deposition), published when he was only 23, Le Clezio was seen as a newcomer to the Nouveau Roman (New Novel) movement spearheaded by Alain Robbe-Grillet.
But he defied easy classification and rapidly became a cult author, a lonely chronicler -- rarely given to making public statements -- of the perils of modern life, particularly in its urban variety.
A passionate admirer of two other great travellers, Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph Conrad, Le Clezio, now 68, won the Renaudot award in 1963 for "Le Proces-Verbal," France's second most prestigious literary award after the Goncourt prize.
His latest novel "Ritournelle de la faim" (Same Old Story about Hunger) released this year has been hailed as breaking new ground, exploring French guilt over its wartime past.
The story revolves around Ethel, a young girl growing up in the French bourgeoisie whose self-satisfied existence is shattered by the war.
"Jean-Marie Le Clezio is a great French monument who towers over our literature," said critic Franz-Olivier Giesbert.
"You must get close to the statue to discover a warm multi-talented writer, who explores just about every genre, from the most modest to the most daring," he said.
Le Clezio was born in the Riviera city of Nice on April 13, 1940 to an English father and French mother; the family had roots in both Brittany and the Indian Ocean island state of Mauritius.
He went on to study literature, and taught briefly at the universities of London and Bristol.
In the late 1960s he travelled to Mexico and Panama where he spent several months among the Emberas Indians. It was, he later said, "an experience which changed my life, my ideas about life and art, ways of being with others, of walking, eating, sleeping, loving and even dreaming."
His fascination with other ways of life has led some critics to describe his work as "metaphysical fiction," a kind of questioning of traditional forms of being.
"I have the feeling of being a very small item on this planet, and literature enables me to express that," he said. "If I had to venture into philosophy, I'd say I was a poor Rousseauist who hasn't really figured it out."
The Swedish Academy which awarded him the Nobel Thursday hailed him as an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilisation."
Among the better-known of his more than 20 novels are "La Guerre" (1970, War) "Mondo" (1978), "Desert" (1980), "Le Chercheur d'Or" (1985, The Prospector), "Onitsha" (1991) and "Etoile Errante" (1992, Wandering Star).
"Wandering Star" and "Onitsha" are among his works that have been translated into English.
In 1994 the readers of the French literary review Lire voted him "the greatest living French-language writer."
Le Clezio divides his time mainly between Mexico and his home in Nice.