French, Sean 1959-
FRENCH, Sean 1959-
(Nicci French, a joint pseudonym)
PERSONAL: Born May 28, 1959, in Bristol, England; son of Philip (a writer) and Kersti (a translator and teacher; maiden name, Molin) French; married Nicci Gerrard (a writer), October 12, 1990; children: Edgar, Anna, Hadley, Molly. Education: Christ Church, Oxford, degree (first class honors), 1981.
ADDRESSES: Home—The Old Rectory, Elmsett, Ipswich IP7 6NA, England. Agent—Pat Kavanagh, Peters, Fraser & Dunlap, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.
CAREER: Journalist and novelist. British Vogue, theater critic, 1981–86; Sunday Times, London, England, deputy literary editor and television critic, 1981–86; New Society, deputy editor, 1986–88; Marie Claire, film critic, 1987–91; New Statesman (magazine), London, England, columnist, 1987–2000.
(Editor) Fatherhood (essays), Virago (London, England), 1992.
(With brothers Karl French and Patrick French) The French Brothers' Wild and Crazy Film Quiz Book, Faber (London, England), 1992.
The Imaginary Monkey (novel), Granta (London, England), 1993.
Patrick Hamilton: A Life (biography), Faber (London, England), 1993.
Bardot (biography), Pavilion (London, England), 1994.
Dreamer of Dreams (novel), Granta (London, England), 1995.
The Terminator (criticism), British Film Institute (London, England), 1996.
Jane Fonda (biography), Pavilion (London, England), 1997.
(Editor) The Faber Book of Writers on Writers, Faber (London, England), 1999.
Start from Here (novel), Picador (London, England), 2004.
WITH WIFE, NICCI GERRARD, UNDER JOINT PSEUDONYM NICCI FRENCH
The Memory Game, Heinemann (London, England), 1997.
The Safe House, Michael Joseph (London, England), 1998.
Killing Me Softly: A Novel of Obsession, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Beneath the Skin, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2000.
The Red Room, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Land of the Living, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Secret Smile, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Catch Me When I Fall, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2006.
ADAPTATIONS: Land of the Living was optioned for film by Warner Bros.; Secret Smile was adapted for audiobook, Brilliance Audio, 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: British author Sean French has reviewed the works of many writers for the periodical New Statesman, and has written and edited several books of his own. In 1992 French's name was attached to two volumes: Fatherhood, an essay collection which he edited; and The French Brothers' Wild and Crazy Film Quiz Book, which he wrote with his brothers, Karl and Patrick French. French has also produced three biographies, one on 1930s British author Patrick Hamilton, another on French actress Brigitte Bardot, and a third on actress and fitness icon Jane Fonda. He has several novels to his credit, including The Imaginary Monkey, Dreamer of Dreams, and Start from Here, as well as several books cowritten with his wife, Nicci Gerrard, under the joint pseudonym Nicci French.
For Fatherhood, French collected essays on parenting from male "novelists, journalists, critics and poets," according to Phil Hogan in the London Observer. Hogan noted that so many of the essayists shared thoughts about their own fathers that "Sonhood" might have been a better title, but he conceded that "what the book lacks in focus, it makes up for in beautifully distilled prose, sharp epiphanies, stories written in blood." Nicola Shulman wrote in the Times Literary Supplement: "I would recommend Fatherhood to anyone, for the quality of its writing, for its candor and its occasional capacity … to catch the heart unaware."
French's biography of Patrick Hamilton saw print in 1993. Hamilton was a socialist writer of novels, including Hangover Square, but he is best remembered for his plays Rope and Gaslight, both of which later became films. French recounts Hamilton's strange upbringing in a family of eccentric writers and other odd characters—Hamilton's overprotective mother was a writer, while his father wrote bad novels and worked to redeem prostitutes. French also discusses Hamilton's stormy relationship with older brother, Bruce—the first to write a biography of the more successful Patrick. Hamilton's bizarre associations with women and his eventual habit of drinking three bottles of whiskey a day are discussed in French's book as well. Terry Eagleton, reviewing Patrick Hamilton: A Life in the London Review of Books, took exception to the fact that "French dismisses [Hamilton's Marxist] politics as a private quirk," but conceded that the book "is an admirably thorough, doggedly researched, robustly written volume." Julian Symons in the Times Literary Supplement summed up French's effort as an "enjoyable and illuminating book," while Julie Burchill in the Spectator labeled the work both "excellent" and "scurrilous."
French's next subject for biography was French actress Brigitte Bardot. L. S. Klepp in Entertainment Weekly praised "French's witty and discerning commentary" in discussing how the public's perception of Bardot affected her personal life, leading to failed marriages, several suicide attempts, and countless affairs.
In 1993, French's first novel was published. The Imaginary Monkey is the story of Greg Weaver, an obese man who was molested during childhood. The book follows him through the decline of his relationship with a young woman named Susan; after they break up, he literally turns into a monkey. "The transformation from man to monkey is brilliantly realized," asserted Susan Jeffreys in New Statesman, "the reader completely convinced by the sureness of French's writing." Following this transformation, Greg manages to insinuate himself as a pet into the household of Susan and her new live-in lover. David Montrose in the Times Literary Supplement wrote that French "handles the material adroitly."
French's second novel, The Dreamer of Dreams, concerns a small family. The parents, Henry and Lori, fight often because of Henry's unemployment. Their son, Horace, is the dreamer of the title, and as David Horspool revealed in the Times Literary Supplement, "the middle section of … [the] novel describes a boy's nightmare." Due to his parents' inability to cope with their situation and each other, Horace nearly dies from neglect. In his nightmare, he looks to his toys to help him find his way home. However, the hardhearted, unsympathetic toys turn their backs on him, forcing young Horace to find his own way on a journey that ultimately leads to self-reliance. However, Horspool explained, "French is too subtle a writer to allow the subsequent deliverance from irreversible disaster to solve all the difficulties he has so convincingly portrayed."
French and his wife, author Nicci Gerrard, have won acclaim for their psychological thrillers, such as Killing Me Softly: A Novel of Obsession and Beneath the Skin. In the former, a research scientist named Alice enjoys a challenging career and a happy personal life, including a good relationship with her boyfriend, Jake. This tranquil picture is disturbed when she meets a handsome stranger and falls into bed with him before she even learns his name. Soon she has married this new lover, Adam Tallis, a famous mountain climber who has saved several lives on dangerous treks. Or did he? Disturbing facts about Adam's past begin to surface, and Alice begins receiving strange and threatening phone calls. As Adam's overpowering passion is slowly revealed as something more sinister, and Alice struggles to overcome her own obsession and save herself. "With lucid and limber prose, French delves into Alice's thoughts," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Every decade or so a psychological thriller appears that graphically recounts an intelligent woman's willing sexual subjugation; this gripping novel joins that group." Writing in Booklist, Jenny McLarin commented that "Alice's actions might seem far-fetched," but French's "compelling prose" makes them "seem not only understandable but necessary."
"As soon as possible go to your local bookstore and purchase Beneath the Skin by Nicci French; it is impossible to put the book down once you start reading it," declared Martha C. Hopkins, in a Mysterybooks review of French and Gerrard's next collaboration. This story of a serial killer and his three victims is told from various points of view. Nadia, Zoe, and Jenny are three petite blonde women who live in London. Each begins to receive anonymous love letters full of startlingly personal information and laced with threats. The police are minimally helpful; realizing this, Nadia sets out to solve the case on her own. As each victim begins to fall apart, the killer gloats and plans his next move. A writer for Kirkus Reviews noted that "the shaky plotting isn't up to Killing Me Softly, but as for the writing and characterization this is as strong as all but the very best." In contrast, a Publishers Weekly reviewer declared Beneath the Skin "a powerfully intricate follow-up" to Killing Me Softly, and added: "The book concludes with a stunning plot twist and demonstrates … that French knows how to carry a chilling situation to frightening extremes." And Booklist contributor McLarin rated the novel "an absolutely first-rate thriller."
The French/Gerrard collaboration continues with The Red Room, Land of The Living, and Secret Smile, all of which have, according to McLarin, writing in Booklist, one thing in common: their "delicious, constantly building suspense." Land of the Living opens with the book's protagonist, Abbie Devereaux, bound, gagged, and tormented by her nameless captor. Escaping this kidnapper, Abbie is unable to convince either police or doctors that she is telling the truth about this horrific experience, yet she must also begin putting the pieces of her life back together again. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt "a horrifying premise catalyzes this fast-paced, suspenseful thriller." Similar praise came from Booklist reviewer McLarin, who called the novel "another brilliant effort by an author who never disappoints," and a critic for Kirkus Reviews concluded, "Despite occasional plotting flaws, that sound you hear is the rustle of pages turning rapidly." In Secret Smile another young woman in distress is presented. A casual affair goes sour and then terrifying for Miranda Cotton when the man she kicks out of her bed and apartment turns up shortly thereafter, engaged to her sister. Miranda soon learns that this is no coincidence, but rather the first step in the jilted man's revenge. Again, the heroine cannot convince others of the danger of the situation: her pleas are taken as a sign of her own hurt feelings at his supposed rejection of her. While a contributor for Kirkus Reviews complained that "French's elegant creepiness goes formulaic" in this title, other reviewers found more to like in Secret Smile. A Publishers Weekly contributor thought it was one of the writing duo's "most sustained and believable studies in terror against women." Similarly, Nicola Upson, writing in New Statesman, noted that the book "extracts terror from the everyday." Upson further observed that Secret Smile is "a chilling study of obsession and revenge." More praise came from Spectator contributor Harriet Waugh, who felt that the work ranks among the authors' "most enjoyable novels."
French told CA: "It's eerie looking through the motley list of my publications: books I was asked to write, books I felt a compulsion to write, books I wrote for others, books I wrote for myself, collaborations of different kinds. Somehow they were all necessary—for myself at least—things I needed to say and was able to find different forms to disguise them in. But then your book must look different to you than it does to the reader, because it is the ladder you have climbed up and then kicked away. By the time the reader has got around to liking or disliking it, you're worrying about the book that doesn't quite exist yet."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Killing Me Softly: A Novel of Obsession, p. 1476; April 1, 2000, Jenny McLarin, review of Beneath the Skin, p. 1438; March 15, 2003, Jenny McLarin, review of Land of the Living, p. 1278; March 15, 2004, Jenny McLarin, review of Secret Smile, p. 1270.
Entertainment Weekly, February 3, 1995, L. S. Klepp, review of Bardot, pp. 48-49.
Film Quarterly, fall, 1997, review of The Terminator, p. 63.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2000, review of Beneath the Skin, p. 332; February 15, 2003, review of Land of the Living, p. 255; March 1, 2004, review of Secret Smile, p. 195.
Kliatt, March, 2005, Bette Ammon, review of Secret Smile (audiobook), p. 56.
Library Journal, November 15, 1999, review of The Faber Book of Writers on Writers, p. 69; June 15, 2004, Samantha J. Gust, review of Secret Smile, p. 58.
London Review of Books, December 2, 1993, Terry Eagleton, review of Patrick Hamilton: A Life, p. 12.
New Statesman, March 26, 1993, Susan Jeffreys, review of The Imaginary Monkey, pp. 38-39; September 15, 1995, review of The Dreamer of Dreams, p. 32; April 5, 2004, Nicola Upson, "One Voice," review of Secret Smile, p. 55.
Observer (London, England), November 1, 1992, Phil Hogan, review of Fatherhood: Men Write about Fathering, p. 60; March 21, 1993, review of The Imaginary Monkey, p. 62; November 21, 1993, review of Patrick Hamilton, p. 14; November 28, 1993, p. 2; June 6, 1993, review of Fatherhood, p. 63; November 21, 1993; March 20, 1994, review of The Imaginary Monkey, p. 23; August 20, 1995, review of Bardot, p. 17; August 27, 1995, review of The Dreamer of Dreams, p. 16; December 22, 1996, review of The Dreamer of Dreams, p. 18.
People, May 29, 2000, Jennifer Wulff, review of Beneath the Skin, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1999, review of Killing Me Softly, p. 53; October 11, 1999, review of The Faber Book of Writers on Writers, p. 68; March 27, 2000, review of Beneath the Skin, p. 52; March 31, 2003, review of Land of the Living, p. 39, Tim Peters, "Exploring Fate, Terror, and Responsibility" (interview), p. 40; April 5, 2004, review of Secret Smile, p. 34.
Science Fiction Studies, July, 1997, review of The Terminator, p. 351; July, 1998, review of The Terminator, p. 361.
Sight and Sound, February, 1997, review of The Terminator, p. 35.
Spectator, November 20, 1993, Julie Burchill, review of Patrick Hamilton, p. 43; September 25, 1999, review of The Faber Book of Writers on Writers, p. 61; May 15, 2004, Harriet Waugh, "The Cad with the Toothbrush Technique," review of Secret Smile, p. 64.
Times Literary Supplement, March 19, 1993, David Montrose, review of The Imaginary Monkey, p. 22; June 25, 1993, Nicola Shulman, review of Fatherhood, p. 10; November 12, 1993, Julian Symons, review of Patrick Hamilton, p. 3; September 1, 1995, David Horspool, review of The Dreamer of Dreams, p. 19; January 16, 1998, review of The Terminator, p. 32.
Woman's Journal, September, 1994, review of Bardot, p. 16.
BookBrowser.com, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (April 8, 2000), Harriet Klausner, review of Beneath the Skin.
Bookpage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (September 3, 2000), Jamie Webster, review of Killing Me Softly.
Fantastic Fiction Web site, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (August 22, 2005), "Sean French."
Hack Writers.com, http://www.hackwriters.com/ (August 22, 2005), Alex Grant, review of Land of the Living.
Mystery Books Web site, http://www.mysterybooks.about.com/ (September 3, 2000), Martha C. Hopkins, review of Beneath the Skin.
NewMysteryReader.com, http://www.newmysteryreader.com/ni.htm/ (August 22, 2005), "Nicci French."