France’s top literary prize goes to Mathias Enard

Mathias Enard has won the Prix Goncourt, France's top literary prize.

Mathias Enard has won the Prix Goncourt, France’s top literary prize.

(Etienne Laurent / EPA)

Imagine if you told someone you were going to write an entire book -- 150,000 words -- that would be one single sentence.

That’s what Mathias Énard did in “Zone,” which, despite its avant-garde form, has become the French novelist’s best-known work. On Tuesday, Énard was awarded the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary honor.

Previous recipients of the Prix Goncourt include Marcel Proust, Michel Houellebecq and Marguerite Duras. According to tradition, it was presented after a luncheon of lamb stew and olives. It comes with a prize of a mere $10, but regularly propels its selections to the top of French bestseller lists.

Énard received the prize for his latest novel, “Boussole” (“Compass”), a story said by the judges to bridge East and West.


Born in France, Énard has studied Persian and Arabic and is a professor of Arabic at the University of Barcelona.

“Boussole” has not yet been published in the United States, but “Zone” and its follow-up, “Street of Thieves,” are both available from translation house Open Letter Books.

Twitter: @paperhaus