Rouaud, Jean 1952-
ROUAUD, Jean 1952-
Born 1952, in Campbon, Loire-Inférieure, France. Education: Attended college in Nantes, France.
Home—Campbon, France. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Éditions Gallimard, 5, rue Sébastien-Bottin, 75328 Paris cedex 07, France; fax: 01-45-44-94-03. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer. Worked various jobs, including pump assistant, medical encyclopedia salesman, and newspaper kiosk clerk.
Prix Goncourt, 1990, for Fields of Glory.
NOVELS; "LOIRE-INFERIEURE" ("LOWER LOIRE") CYCLE
Les champs d'honneur, Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1990, translation by Ralph Manheim published as Fields of Glory, Arcade (New York, NY), 1992.
Des hommes illustres, Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1993, translation by Barbara Wright published as Of Illustrious Men, Arcade (New York, NY), 1994.
Le monde à peu près, Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1996, translation by Barbara Wright published as The World More or Less, Arcade (New York, NY), 1998.
Pour vos cadeaux (title means "For Your Gifts"), Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1998.
Sur la scène comme au ciel (title means "On Stage as in Heaven"), Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1999.
Le paléo circus, Flohic Éditions (Charenton, France), 1996.
Les très riches heures (novel), Éditions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1997.
La désincarnation (critical essay), Gallimard (Paris, France), 2001.
La belle au lézard dans son cadre Doré (adolescent fiction), illustrated by Yan Nascimbene, Albin Michel (Paris, France), 2002.
L'invention de l'auteur (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 2004.
French novelist Jean Rouaud is best known for his "Loire-Inferieure" ("Lower Loire") cycle of five autobiographical novels about both his family and his journey toward becoming a writer. His debut novel, Les champs d'honneur, published in English as Fields of Glory, is the first book in the cycle and made a spectacular debut, winning France's Prix Goncourt, a prestigious award seldom given to a first-time novelist. The novel relates the history of a farm family near the city of Nantes, focusing on three elderly family members and their eccentricities as told from their grandchildren's perspectives. Although Rouaud has a knack for humor, he also depicts the slaughter of family members and loved ones on "les champs d'honneur" during the twentieth century's two world wars. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Charles Solomon called the novel "delightfully quirky" and a "wry chronicle." William J. Cloonan, writing in French Review, noted that the book "is remarkably tough-minded for a first effort. Sentiment abounds, but very little sentimentality."
The next book in the cycle, Des hommes illustres, published in English as Of Illustrious Men, changes its focus from the grandparents to the father in a story told by a narrator named Jean. Tracing his father Joseph's life backward, Jean relates the tale of a traveling salesman who led an eventful life, from visiting ancient druid sites to being conscripted by the Nazis in Germany to his death at the age of forty-one. The story is told in two parts. The first focuses on the life and death of Joseph, and the second on Joseph's heroism during World War II while working with the French Resistance. Katherine W. Carson, writing in World Literature Today, called Rouaud's follow-up to Fields of Glory a "brilliant second novel" and added that it is a "tightly written narrative." Times Literary Supplement contributor Daniel Gunn found less to like, noting that the book "invites readers to make comparisons" to the first novel. He also commented that "even Rouaud enthusiasts will be left by the literary descendant with a sense of diminishing returns." But Richard Goodman, writing in the New York Times, called Of Illustrious Men "marvelous," noting that the novel "only confirms what a talented and dedicated writer Mr. Rouaud is." Goodman added, "He has a voice, a sweet, ironic droll voice, that comes through clearly in his very carefully wrought prose."
Having related both the stories of his grandfather's and father's generations, Rouaud turned the focus more on his own times in the coming-of-age book Le monde à peu près, which continued the "Loire-Inferieure" cycle. Published in English as The World More or Less, the novel recounts the narrator's experience at a French university during the 1960s. As summed up by Mary Carroll in Booklist, the novel is "a tale of a myopic adolescent outsider, fatherless thanks to the tragically early death of his father, coping with the issues of values and identity, destiny and choice, friendship and love that confront teens of all eras." A Publishers Weekly contributor found the novel less successful than its predecessor in the cycle, noting that "Rouaud's glib prose" is "littered with Rimbaudian mock jargon." Writing in Kirkus Reviews, a reviewer wrote that "An excess of navel-gazing weakens this otherwise highly appealing portrait." In a review in World Literature Today, Alan Roberts noted the novel's sometimes somber tone but praised Rouaud's ability to convey "many lighter moments." Roberts went on to note, "In spite of the reader's pity for the misfit in society, he or she will certainly enjoy the humor of the presentation and complete the reading … with both admiration for its author and a sense of satisfaction." Lucy Atkins, writing in the Guardian, commented that in The World More or Less "events are less important than Rouaud's ability to glean significance from minutiae, and if the jaunty voice doesn't infuriate you, his ruminations on growing up in turbulent times can be poignant."
Rouaud's final two books in the cycle are Pour vos cadeaux (title means "For Your Gifts") and Sur la scène comme au ciel (title means "On Stage as in Heaven"). Both novels focus on the mother of the family, dealing with her life in Pour vos cadeaux and then her death in Sur la scène comme au ciel. As described by Alice-Catherine Carls in World Literature Today, Sur la scène comme au ciel "is divided in five 'acts,' during which the symbiotic relationship between mother and son progresses to a climax—death and grief—only to subside with the son's acceptance of the loss." Noting that a primary theme of the novel focuses on the act of writing itself, Carls added that "The convoluted sentences grasp the reader in their diffuse, seamless, flowing pictures, which resemble a nearsighted persons blurry vision."
In addition to his autobiographical novels, Rouaud has written a variety of books, including an adolescent picture book, a critical essay on literature, and more fictional works. In the novel Les très riches heures, only two characters, Elle and Lui, are featured. Although not part of Rouaud's cycle, the novel features a male protagonist, Lui, who is so consumed with the writing of a history of La Loire Inferieure that he is completely indifferent to his wife, Elle, and her love of God and her husband. Writing in World Literature Today, Alan Roberts noted that the "dialogue is made up of sudden non-sequitur comments" and "frequent clashings of unrelated thoughts." Roberts called the book "a brief but challenging bit of contemporary French fiction." In La désincarnation, Rouaud writes about literature and the art of writing. Guy Mermier noted in World Literature Today that the book "is a powerful essay warning about the dangers that can threaten literature at times, yet leaving us with good reason to believe in literature's continued survival."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 1994, Mary Carroll, review of Of Illustrious Men, p. 479; March 15, 1998, Carroll, review of The World More or Less, p. 1203.
French Review, May, 1991, William J. Cloonan, "Prizes and Surprises: l'année Romanesque 1990," pp. 915-921; April, 1995, Emile Langlois, review of Des hommes illustres, p. 912.
Guardian (Manchester, England), March 5, 1998, Lucy Atkins, review of The World More or Less, p. T15.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1998, review of The World More or Less, p. 144.
Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1993, Charles Solomon, review of Fields of Glory, p. 8.
New York Times Book Review, November 20, 1994, Richard Goodman, review of Of Illustrious Men, p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, December 14, 1990, Herbert R. Lottman, "France's Goncourt and Renaudot Prizes Break with Tradition," p. 15; January 27, 1992, review of Fields of Glory, p. 88; September 26, 1994, review of Of Illustrious Men, p. 51; February 2, 1998, review of The World More or Less, p. 81.
Romantic Review, November, 2001, Jean H. Duffy, "Tradition, Ritual, and Identity in Jean Rouaud's Loire-Inferieure Cycle," p. 455.
Times Literary Supplement, October 8, 1993, Daniel Gunn, review of Fields of Glory, p. 10; February 13, 1998, Gillian Tindall, review of The World More or Less, p. 23.
Washington Post Book World, August 19, 1993, review of Fields of Glory, p. 12.
World Literature Today, winter, 1995, Katherine W. Carson, review of Des hommes illustres, p. 94; spring, 1997, Alan Roberts, review of Le monde à peu près, pp. 342-343; winter, 1998, Roberts, review of Les très riches heures, and Alice-Catherine Carls, review of Le paleo circus, p. 98; spring, 2000, Carls, review of Sur la scène comme au ciel, p. 391; spring, 2002, Guy Mermier, review of La désincarnation, p. 180.
Jean Rouaud de Campbon Home Page,http://perso.easynet.fr/~yrouby (August 25, 2004).*