Salvayre, Lydie 1948-

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Salvayre, Lydie 1948-


Born 1948, in France. Education: Degree in psychiatry.




Psychiatrist in Paris, France; author.


Prix Novembre for La compagnie des spectres; Prix Hermes.



La vie commune, Julliard (Paris, France), 1991, translated by Jane Kuntz as Everyday Life, Dalkey Archive Press (Rochester, NY), 2006.

La médaille, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1993, translated by Jane Davey as The Award, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1997.

La puissance des mouches, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1995.

La compagnie des spectres, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1997, translated by Christopher Woodall as The Company of Ghosts: Followed by Some Useful Advice for Apprentice Process-Servers, preface by Christopher Woodalls, Dalkey Archive Press (Normal, IL), 2006.

La conférence de Cintegabelle, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1999, translated by Linda Coverdale as The Lecture, Dalkey Archive Press (Normal, IL), 2005.

Les belles âmes, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 2000.

Le vif du vivant, Éditions Cercle d'Art (Paris, France), 2001.

Contre (radio script; first performed at the Festival d'Avignon, 2001), Éditions du Seuil/Verticales (Paris, France), 2002.

Et que les vers mangent le boeuf mort, Verticales (Paris, France), 2002.

La méthode Mila, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 2005.

Dis pas ça (sound recording), music by Serge Teyssot-Gay, Verticales (Paris, France), 2006.


Prize-winning novelist Lydie Salvayre has become popular both in France and, in translation, in English-speaking countries, for her satirical, often experimental works that lampoon French societal norms. Born to Spanish immigrants, Salvayre attended medical school in the south of France and earned a degree in psychiatry. She is a practicing psychiatrist who did not begin publishing novels until she was in her forties. Her debut, La vie commune, later translated as Everyday Life, is an unusual mix of humor and psychological horror. The book is a character study of an aging typist named Suzanne who descends into physical and mental illness as she feels her job threatened by a younger woman. "This is a frightening, if often comic, peek into the abyss of the aberrant," according to Bob Williams on the Compulsive Reader Web site. He added that the work is "not one that will appeal to every reader, but the skill of the author is undeniable and her book is impossible to forget."

With La médaille (translated as The Award), Salvayre skewers French corporate culture. Taking place entirely during an award ceremony to honor loyal employees at a car factory, the book includes speeches by both the executives and employees that are written in such a way that it soon becomes clear that the workers have been thoroughly exploited and a rebellion is in the making. Library Journal contributor Laurel Duda approved of this "interesting, experimental novel," while a Publishers Weekly writer lauded Salvayre's style: "With never a false note, Salvayre … layer[s] absurdity on macabre absurdity in a manner that would make Moliere proud." A similar technique is used in La conférence de Cintegabelle (The Lecture), in which a pompous intellectual gives a dull speech to his audience about the dying art of conversation. His lecture, however, reveals that not only does he not understand what a conversation is himself, but also that he is a self-centered, lonely, petty man who treated his wife poorly. Salvayre's style allows the reader to easily perceive the man's flaws, while he remains blind to them. An Economist reviewer praised the work as being "full of irony and wisdom," while observing that "the introduction of fictional elements prevents [the story] … from becoming too moralistic."

La compagnie des spectres (translated as The Company of Ghosts: Followed by Some Useful Advice for Apprentice Process-Servers) is reminiscent of the character study method of Salvayre's first novel. Switching back and forth between the years 1944 and 1997, the story again mixes horror with comedic elements. When Rose Mélie is visited by a process server to seize her possessions, the woman, who never overcame the trauma of World War II, believes him to be a Nazi collaborator. Her daughter, Louisiane, serves as a buffer between the man and her mother, explaining her mother's condition. A Center for Book Culture reviewer observed that the author contrasts the two time periods to pick "at the sores of recent French history, impertinently exposing continuities in authoritarianism." "The Company of Ghosts is in many ways quite bleak," related a critic for Danny Reviews: "there are some horrors in Rose's memories and the distrainment of a poor household's meager possessions is hardly cheerful. But it is leavened by its humour, dark and unsettling though that is, and is not depressing. It is a striking and compelling novel."

In the more recent La méthode Mila, Salvayre uses the psychological struggles of one misanthropic character as a forum for comparing the powers of philosophy versus fiction. Fausto Arjona is a bachelor who must take care of his dying mother. Her impending mortality, however, deeply disturbs him, and his feelings of hatred for his mother—or what, at least, she represents—make him fear for his sanity. At first, he seeks comfort in the writings of philosopher Rene Descartes; failing this, he is drawn to a gypsy named Madame Mila, who enthralls him with tales of his ancestry that become therapeutic. This work, explained Warren Motte in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, "puts onstage a wry struggle between philosophy and fiction, and the way that Lydie Salvayre chooses to resolve that agonistic says a great deal about her faith in the novel as a vital cultural form."

Salvayre has begun to add stage performances and radio recordings to her oeuvre, as is the case with Contre, which is a piece that was originally meant for narration and two guitars. This work abandons fiction altogether and instead is "a broadside indictment of contemporary French society," according to Warren Motte in World Literature Today. As with La méthode Mila, it also testifies to the author's belief that literature is still a relevant form of engaging audiences in important philosophical, societal, and political issues. From her first book to such works as Contre, asserted Motte, "Salvayre has built a reputation as a sharp, hard-hitting observer of social contradiction and abuse."



Economist, June 19, 1999, review of La conférence de Cintegabelle, p. 15.

Library Journal, February 15, 1998, Laurel Duda, review of The Award, p. 172; June 15, 2005, Janet Evans, review of The Lecture, p. 60.

Publishers Weekly, July 28, 1997, review of The Award, p. 52.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 2006, Warren Motte, review of La méthode Mila, p. 141.

World Literature Today, July-September, 2003, Warren Motte, review of Contre, p. 121.


Brooklyn Rail, (November 1, 2006), "Lydie Salvayre with Yann Nicol, Translated by Mireille Vignol," interview with Lydie Salvayre.

Center for Book Culture, (February 25, 2007), review of The Company of Ghosts: Followed by Some Useful Advice for Apprentice Process-Servers.

Compulsive Reader, (February 25, 2007), Bob Williams, review of Everyday Life.

Danny Reviews, (March 3, 2006), review of The Company of Ghosts.

French Book News, (February 25, 2007), review of La méthode Mila.

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