By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
Yesterday’s awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to the Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich wasn’t perhaps as much of a surprise as last year’s crowning of Patrick Modiano. It’s fair to say that the choice of Modiano put paid to any lingering prospects Modiano’s fellow Frenchman Michel Tournier may have had of being garlanded (and I’m not sure that he would care either way). After all, Tournier is ninety and hasn’t published a novel for nearly twenty years (Éléazar, 1996). It’s hard to imagine there will be another one.
Tournier hasn’t ever had his due in Britain: his novels were translated, and respectfully reviewed, but had little impact. His brand of intellectually probing novel of ideas is essentially alien to us, even if his first novel Friday (Vendredi ou les limbes du pacifique, 1967) is based on Robinson Crusoe. His great second novel Le Roi des aulnes (1970; The Erl-King) tackled the Nazi era in a way that was utterly strange and compelling. When his first collection of short stories Le Coq de bruyère was published in 1978, the TLS reviewer Barbara Wright wrote “M Tournier has a wide range of subjects, and of course he writes extremely well – but he still frightens me”,