I'm just back from a short jaunt to Paris. Of course, seeing what is new in the world of French letters is always the most exciting part of any trip there -- the rest is just food and drink... There's a new novel called Zone, the fourth novel, I think, from a guy called Mathias Énard (a Barcelona-based teacher of Arabic), which I am assured by several trustworthy people, including translator and Americanophile novelist Christophe Claro, is the novel of the decade, if not of the century. It's certainly a large object and -- perhaps because of certain details in the style of the hyperbole -- I really can't wait to read it.
On the other hand, I'm reading what feels already like a great book: a novel called L'Excuse by Julie Wolkenstein, a French écrivaine born in 1968 in Paris. She wrote her thesis on Henry James and now teaches on the comparative literature course at the Université of Caen, which is the top place for American Studies in France. L'Excuse is her fifth book, I think. It traces a parallel experience to Portrait of a Lady, with certain key inversions and diversions. Lise -- our Isabel Archer -- is French and returning to the house where once, young and proud like Isabel, she came visiting American relatives. She is fighting the resemblances between her story and Portrait, forced upon her by her dead cousin, the Ralph Touchett of the novel, who has bequeathed her boxes of photographs, cassette tapes, and his own version of the story. The narrative describes the eerie connections between her story and that of James. It is told in non-Jamesian, rather beautifully ordinary prose -- the last major difference between this and the original book.
I also discovered a great bookshop in the Marais. I Love My Blender is among the best bookshops in the centre of Paris and stocks about half English origin books, half of which are actually in English. The rest of the stock being just what you'd want to read if you share the owner's taste and also read French.