Michon’s exquisite short narratives transport us to the heart of the Middle Ages as witnesses to the double-edged power of belief
This welcome volume brings to English-language readers two beautifully crafted works by the internationally acclaimed French author Pierre Michon. Populated by distant and little-known figures—Irish and French monks, saints, and scientists in Winter Mythologies; Benedictine monks in the Vendée region of France in Abbots—the tales frequently draw on obscure histories and other literary sources.
Michon brings his characters to life in spare, evocative prose. Each, in his or her own way, exemplifies a power of belief that brings about an achievement—or catastrophe—in the real world: monasteries are built upon impossibly muddy wastes, monks acquire the power of speech, lives are taken, books are written, saints are created on the flimsiest of evidence. Michon’s exploration in ancient archives has led him to the discovery of such often deluded figures and their deeds, and his own exceptional powers bestow upon them a renewed life on the written page. This in turn is an example of the power of belief, which for Michon is what makes literature itself possible. Winter Mythologies and Abbots are meant to be read slowly, to be savored, to be mined for the secrets Michon has to tell.
Pierre Michon’s writing has received great acclaim in his native France; his work has been translated into a dozen languages. He was winner of the Prix France Culture in 1984 for his first book, Small Lives; the 1996 Prix de la Ville de Paris for his body of work; and the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie française. His works include Masters and Sons, The Origin of the World, and Rimbaud’s Son.Ann Jefferson teaches French at the University of Oxford. She has translated works by Gérard Macé and Pascal Quignard.
“Michon demonstrates the independence of voice that marks a true writer. . . . His supple prose, dappled with chiaroscuro effects, is used in straightforward chronicles. But his writing can at any time lift or lower into semi-hallucinatory effects that recall Arthur Rimbaud’s assaults on conventional perception.”—Roger Shattuck, New York Review of Books
“Excellent news on the Michon translation front: an exceptional translator has, at last, appeared. . . . There is the velocity, the precision, the music, the compression, the singularity, the power. . . . [Michon’s] vision . . . appears with all its French force in Ann Jefferson’s exceptional transplantation.”—Wyatt Mason, New York Review of Books
“Michon is one of the best-kept secrets of modern French prose.”—Publishers Weekly
“[Michon’s] books are (or contain, as with the collections Winter Mythologies and Abbots or Masters and Servants) compelling stories composed in a distinctive style.”—John Taylor, Arts Fuse
Longlisted for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award, fiction category, organized by Three Percent, a resource for international literature based at the University of Rochester
Selected as a finalist of the French-American Foundation Translation Prize
“[Michon] has become a member of that family known as the authors I admire, I trust, I want to read.”—Richard Howard
“An astonishingly rich, mythic new direction in modern French narrative.”—Guy Davenport
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