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Ex-film director wins France's top literary prize

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Ex-film director wins France's top literary prize
Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP

France's top literary prize, the Goncourt, was awarded on Tuesday to former film director Jean-Baptiste Andrea for his novel Veiller sur elle (Watch Over Her) set in Italy's fascist years.

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Andrea, 52, has made an impact in the English-speaking world with two well-received translations, A Hundred Million Years and a Day and Devils and Saints.

His latest 600-page epic focuses on a sculptor and his romance with a woman from a much wealthier background.

Andrea has forged an unusual path, starting off as a screen writer and film director in a career in cinema saw him make a handful of movies including the 2006 black comedy Big Nothing starring the famed Friends actor David Schwimmer.

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He turned to novels relatively late in his 40s, with his first book published in 2017. Watch Over Her is his fourth novel.

"I wanted to write something bigger than what I had written before, to leave behind all the limits that I had initially imposed on myself in 20 years of cinema... but which I had also paradoxically imposed on my first three novels," he told France Inter radio in late October.

"It's a homage to Italy, the country of my ancestors," he added.

In a century-old tradition, the Goncourt winner is revealed at lunchtime at the Drouant restaurant in central Paris.

As well as prestige, the award guarantees a boost in sales - on average over the past 20 years, to around 400,000 copies.

Andrea beat the favourite Eric Reinhardt's stylistically bold novel about a woman's decline after leaving her family.

Reinhardt's Sarah, Susanne et l'ecrivain (Sarah, Susanne and the Writer) tells the story of a woman driven to despair by an awful husband.

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