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French publisher pulls books by writer accused of underage rape

Gabriel Matzneff in 2014.
Gabriel Matzneff in 2014. AFP

French publisher Gallimard said Tuesday it was halting sales of books by a writer accused of raping children. France's most prestigious publishing house told AFP it was the first time in its 140-year history that it had taken such a radical step. 

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Award-winning essayist Gabriel Matzneff is under investigation after a leading French editor detailed in print how he seduced her when she was 14. Gallimard said they were recalling all the journals the 83-year-old had written under its imprint since 1990. The last, "The Lover at the Arsenal", came out in November.

Amazon has also reportedly withdrawn the Kindle version of one Matzneff's most notorious works, "Les Moins de Seize Ans" (The Under 16s), after sales exploded online after the scandal broke.

The dramatic moves come a day after French culture minister Franck Riester said the writer should lose a special state pension. Riester told reporters Matzneff could also be stripped of his two major state honours as officer of Arts and Letters and knight of the Order of National Merit.

The weekly magazine Le Point had also dropped him as a columnist.                            

Matzneff has never made any secret of his sexual preference for adolescent girls and boys, and it did not stop him winning the prestigious Renaudot prize in 2013. In "Les Moins de Seize Ans", which was published in 1974 and reissued in 2005, he was frank about indulging his obsessional "taste" for underage partners and sex tourism.

He was even more explicit in his 1990 book, "Mes amours decomposes" (My Loves Deconstructed), which describes sexual relationships with teenagers aged between 14 and 16. It is illegal in France for an adult to have sex with anyone under 15.

He told French television at the time that he preferred "to have people in my life who are not hardened and who are still kind.

"A very young girl is rather sweeter, even if she becomes very quickly hysterical and just as crazy as she will be when she is older," he added.

Despite raising eyebrows, Matzneff continued to publish and there was little controversy when he picked up the Renaudot prize six years ago. The case has again shone a light on what many see as an overly permissive attitude towards sexual harassment and paedophilia in France.

'Consent'

The French film establishment has been rocked by rape accusations against directors Roman Polanski and Luc Besson, while star Adele Haenel said she was sexually harassed by the director of her first film when she was 12. All three men deny the claims.

Police opened a formal investigation into Matzneff last week after publisher Vanessa Springora described her tortured relationship with the writer in a book titled "Consent". In it she described how Matzneff, then in his fifties, would wait for her outside school and then take her to his home for sex.

"At 14 you are not supposed to be picked up from school by a man of 50 and find yourself in his bed with his penis in your mouth (instead of a biscuit) at teatime," Springora wrote.

Matzneff denies any wrongdoing, insisting there was an "exceptional love" between him and Springora. He claimed she tried to portray him as "a pervert, a manipulator and a predator".

Gallimard said it felt impelled to act after Springora's book was published.

"The exceptional measure which we have taken is justified to make sure the suffering that Vanessa Springora recounts" in her book is heard, it added in a statement.

(AFP)

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