Hervé Le Tellier wins Goncourt Prize, France's most prestigious literary award

French author Hervé Le Tellier.
French author Hervé Le Tellier. © Joel Saget, AFP

French author Hervé Le Tellier has been awarded the Goncourt Prize for his novel "L'Anomalie" (The Anomaly). France's top literary honour was attributed by video link owing to the coronavirus pandemic.


Le Tellier, 63, is a mathematician by training and former journalist. He is a member of the Oulipo international literary group, founded in France by poet Raymond Queneau and writer and scientist François Le Lionnais in 1960.

Le Tellier's "L'Anomalie", a futuristic thriller about the double lives of passengers aboard a flight from Paris to New York, obtained eight votes from the Goncourt jury to earn the country's most prestigious book award. Finalist Maël Renouard, meanwhile, won two votes for "L'Historiographe du royaume" (The kingdom's historiographer).

The 2020 Renaudot Prize, awarded moments after the Goncourt as is traditional, went to author Marie-Hélène Lafon for her novel "Histoire du fils" (A son's story).

The Goncourt winner was announced two days after the French government eased a month-long coronavirus lockdown, allowing bookshops, which had complained bitterly about the restrictions, to reopen.

Tellier had been tipped for glory with a page-turner of a novel in which a hit man, a Nigerian pop star and a writer land in New York only to find that their flight – and other versions of their selves – had already arrived three months earlier.

A thriller with a 'real cinematic dimension'

The former Reuters journalist said Monday that it could be read as a parable for life after Donald Trump.

"The idea is that since Trump is there and is the cause of the world's destruction, the vision of the book is to propose another version of the world, where Biden is president.

"That's one possible way of reading it," he said by video link.

Jury chairman Didier Decoin said that the novel had a "real cinematic dimension" and that he hoped it would be adapted for the big screen.

Because of the Covid-19 restrictions, the 10-person Goncourt jury was forced to forgo its traditional slap-up awards lunch at the Drouant restaurant in central Paris.

Instead, they huddled over video link from their homes.

They had been due to name the winner on November 10, but to show solidarity with booksellers they held off until bookshops were allowed reopen at the weekend, along with vendors of other "non-essential" goods. Restaurants and cafés remain closed.                            

Previous winners of the Goncourt Prize, which was set up in 1903, include Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras and Michel Houellebecq.

While Tellier gets a paltry 10 euros ($12) in prize money, the award invariably catapults the winner to the top of the bestseller lists.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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