ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, B. Grasset, Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 61 rue des Saints-Pères, 75006 Paris, France.
CAREER: Journalist for newspapers, including Canard Enchaîné and L'Express.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Médicis, 1986, for Les funérailles de la Sardine.
Louis II de Bavière (biography), Éditions Spéciale (Paris, France), 1972.
Les chevaliers du crépuscule (novel), J.C. Lattès (Paris, France), 1975.
Les funérailles de la Sardine (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1986.
Les filles du Calvaire (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1991.
La sainte famille (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1996.
Le songe de pharaon (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1998.
Les petites Mazarines, B. Grasset (Paris, France), 1999.
Lansquenet (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 2002.
(Author of text, with Donald Kuspit) Pierre-Marie Brisson, Pierre Marie Brisson, le chemin des gestes (exhibition catalog), Somogy Éditions d'Art (Paris, France), 2004.
Ce soir on soupe chez Pétrone (novel), B. Grasset (Paris, France), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: French novelist Pierre Combescot is known for writing complex novels that interweave multiple plots and characters. The end result of his fiction, though, is often not related so much to plot and character as it is to creating an overall impression or commentary on France or modern society. For example, his prize-winning novel Les funérailles de la Sardine intertwines three tales: one set during the end of the Roman Empire, one set in the sixteenth century during the waning days of the influential Medici family, and one set in modern times. The first two stories take place during periods of social decline, and this device helps serve as a way of commenting on the third plot set in modern times. As Sergio Villani speculated in World Literature In Review, the author "wants perhaps to tell us that our own sophisticated and unjust civilization is on the brink of decline."
Another example of Combescot's technique of interweaving plot and character is his popular novel Les filles du Calvaire. The author includes dozens of characters in this tale, all of whom are in one way or another connected to protagonist Maud Boulafière. As Combescot follows these various people as they go about their lives, what emerges is not so much a portrait of the individuals but rather a portrayal of Paris itself. Dominique Goy-Blanquet described the book in her Times Literary Supplement assessment as "fifteen novels in one," and went on to admire how "there are no loose threads in the carefully computerized web" of stories. However, while the reviewer acknowledged that Combescot's accomplishment is worthy of praise, she added that the novel is so carefully orchestrated that it allows neither the author nor "us the freedom to enjoy [the characters'] … tales." "Despite Combescot's undoubted gifts of fabulation," Anita Brookner similarly commented in the Spectator: "I found it wearisome." On the other hand, William Thompson asserted in the French Review that Les filles du Calvaire marks Combescot to be an author worthy of comparison to the likes of Victor Hugo and Émile Zola. The work, wrote Thompson, "is one of the great novels about Paris, presenting a cast of characters who, apart from their involvement with the central figure, Maud, represent a fascinating cross-section of the human landscape of the City of Lights."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
French Review, October, 1992, William Thompson, review of Les filles du Calvaire, pp. 174-175.
Spectator, December 21, 1991, Anita Brookner, "Prizewinning Novels of France," p. 80.
Times Literary Supplement, December 6, 1991, Dominique Goy-Blanquet, "A Parisian Picaresque," review of Les filles du Calvaire, p. 22.
World Literature in Review, winter, 1988, Sergio Villani, review of Les funérailles de la Sardine, p. 85.