Once is not custom. Every year, on the occasion of the “Goncourt des Animaux”, the weather is usually... dog-like. However, this Wednesday, November 15, it was under mild weather that the jury for the “30 Million Friends” prize gathered for a deliberation lunch at the Drouant restaurant. This literary prize, whose exact title is the “30 Million Friends Literary Prize” has (almost) everything the real Goncourt has to offer: a prestigious jury, an emblematic place in the capital and a common lounge, the same one where proclaimed Goncourt, next to the Prix Renaudot salon. And to top it all off, among the nine jurors is the president of the Académie Goncourt, Didier Decoin.
But missing this year, among the members of the jury, Michel Houellebecq and Joël Dicker, Swiss writer and author of The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair. Except for the two absent, were present Didier Decoin, the academician Frédéric Vitoux, the president of the 30 Millions d'Amis foundation Reha Hutin, Didier van Cauwelaert (winner of the Goncourt 1994), the novelist and philosopher Frédéric Lenoir, the novelist Irène Frain and finally the famous editor Teresa Cremisi. After half an hour of waiting behind the door of the Goncourt salon, from where the ballet of the restaurant's waiters paraded, it was the latter who announced the name of the winner of the literary prize, Cédric Sapin-Defour for His Odor After the rain (Stock) as well as that of the essay prize, Tom Mustill, British producer and director of documentaries on nature, for How to speak whale (Albin Michel).
The announcement of the winner is hardly a surprise for those who have closely followed the summer's bestsellers. It was voted almost unanimously, within one vote, reports Frédéric Lenoir. Its smell after the rain, which tells of the bond uniting Ubac, a Bernese mountain dog and the narrator, stood out last August by dominating the best-selling book rankings for several weeks. The work, which had sold more than 70,000 copies since its release last March at the time of its success in bookstores, has now reached more than 200,000 readers.
“A surprising success,” concedes Didier Decoin, who says he is “happy” with the result for readers. “We still asked ourselves a question, as there have already been 200,000 readers, which is already a victory in itself, but we said to ourselves that on the other hand the readers would probably be angry if the price 30 Millions of Friends did not crown this book,” he asked. This is why the book was voted on in the second ballot, with the jury asking itself the question of crowning another book among the eight selected titles. “The result of the prize is extremely important because we have here a book for the general public which has already touched readers through the extraordinary identification that the reader can make with the hero and the dog,” explained Irène Frain. . Frédéric Vitoux describes a book of “extreme sensitivity” and writes “with great accuracy and a great sense of detail”. Except for this distinguished story, several works were noted in the selection of essays, notably Francis Grembert's In Praise of the Lark, cited by several jurors.
The congregation stamps its feet, glancing towards the door. Now that the name of the winner has been announced, we are now waiting for the lucky one. When Cédric Sapin-Defour sets foot on the blue carpet of the Goncourt salon, exclamations burst forth: “Ah, here you are at last! We were waiting for you.” All smiles, the winner confided that he was “delighted” to be among people “who love words and animals”. “This prize is the greatest tribute that we can pay to the hero of this book who is the dog Ubac,” he confided with a certain emotion in his voice. And to add: “Writing this book was reliving a second time the time spent with this dog, this animal which filled my life and which gave it a lot of meaning.” For the jurors, it was a “big favorite”, in the words of Frédéric Lenoir. “When I read the book for the first time, I said to myself that we had for the first time, after 43 years, the 30 Million Friends literary prize which speaks to the hearts of people,” he said. The president of the 30 Million Friends Foundation, Reha Hutin, is enthusiastic.
Regarding the essay prize awarded to Tom Mustill, Didier van Cauwelaert explained the jury's choice. “The language of the whale is as rich, if not more, than the communication system of the dog, but bridging the gap between domestic animals and cetaceans is the whole meaning of the 30 Million Friends foundation and it is illustrated this year by the jury's choice. Frédéric Lenoir, who nevertheless voted for Claude Béata's book, The Madness of Cats, still felt that it was “very important to talk about whales” whose role in marine ecosystems has been demonstrated many times. “It’s a book that makes sense today and is very well written,” he added. We leave the conclusion to Didier Decoin: “It is the great virtue of this book to have succeeded in demystifying the whale, an extremely complex and furiously intelligent animal which is becoming familiar to us.”