By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
When J. M. G. (full name Jean-Marie Gustave) Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize in 2008, the Swedish Academy called him “an author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization”. This strikes me as a fine specimen of the higher waffle; either that or – “beyond and below the reigning civilization”? – something was lost in translation. And yet I can see what they mean. Le Clézio has long focused on the marginalized and downtrodden in society, using his novels as a means to explore issues such as sexual exploitation, political oppression and environmental degradation. It hasn’t always made for good fiction; his last two published (and as yet untranslated) novels, Ourania (2005), and Ritournelle de la faim, published weeks before the Nobel announcement, come to mind.
But when Le Clézio is good, he’s very good. His first novel, Le Procès-verbal, published in 1963 when he was twenty-three and translated as The Interrogation, remains a strange and brilliant book. Some critics saw affinities with the nouveau roman but I think it’s out on its own: experimental, yes, but completely original. It’s arguably his best book.