From the day before, when the four "survivors" of the Goncourt team in Beirut landed at the airport, we knew that the deliberations (by Zoom, as in the "good old days" of confinement) were not going to last for hours. On the one hand, because the scoring system (each member of the jury ranks and weighs his four choices) is simple, but also because two names seem to have general approval, those of Giuliano da Empoli and Brigitte Giraud. At 12:55 p.m. Lebanon time, the verdict is in: the finalists are Giuliano da Empoli, for Le Mage du Kremlin (Gallimard), Brigitte Giraud, for Vivre vite (Flammarion), Makenzy Orcel for A Human Sum (Rivages) and Cloé Korman for Les Almost Sisters (Threshold)
We whisper that da Empoli would be well on his way to pocketing the Quai Conti Academicians' Grand Prize for the Novel, to be awarded this Thursday, October 27, which would a priori take away all hope from the Goncourts... Although... Some members du Goncourt recall that doubles have indeed taken place in the history of more than a century of the prize, as well as that of Jonathan Littell (Les Bienveillantes, 2006), winner of the two academies.
Brigitte Giraud, the author of Vivre vite (Flammarion), also seems to be on the right track. Since 1997, the native of Sidi-Bel-Abbès (her father was called to Algeria) has obtained wide critical recognition, with the bonus of the Goncourt of the short story for Love is very overestimated (2007). With Living Fast, a reflection on the fateful chain of circumstances that led to her husband's motorcycle accident on June 22, 1999, the novelist undoubtedly touched the members of the jury.
Now let's take a quick look at the sales figures: 80,0000 copies sold (since April 14) for Le Mage du Kremlin by da Empoli, 6,000 for Brigitte Giraud's book, 2,500 for Cloé Korman's and less of 1000 for that of Makenzy Orcel. Suffice to say that the multiplier coefficient of the Goncourt prize will have to play full (for the record, the Goncourt 2021, La Mémoire des hommes, by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr sold 480,000 copies).
But what also agitates the conversations on this Tuesday are the vagaries of recent days, the trip to Beirut by the Goncourt academicians gradually confining to Agatha Christie's Ten Little Negroes. From the start, Patrick Rambaud, who travels a little and is tired, and Françoise Chandernagor, awaiting knee surgery, had declined the trip to Beirut. They were therefore eight to have decided to swap the Goncourt salon at Drouant for the paneling of the Résidence des Pins, the beautiful residence of the representative of the Quai d'Orsay in Lebanon. Eight Goncourt, therefore, and Françoise Rossinot, general delegate of the academy, were to come and deliver their third and last list in Beirut as a form of "friendship" and support for the new literary event, Beirut Books, launched from 20 to 30 October by the French Institute and the French Embassy. During September, it was Françoise Rossinot's turn to have to give up the Beirut trip due to an unfortunate fall and a broken kneecap.
And then, on October 8, patratas! Lebanese Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada criticizes, in a tweet, the presence of authors "having embraced the Zionist projects in thought and in practice, supporting them both in their literary works and in their daily lives". The tweet may have been canceled the same day (without having been relayed on Lebanese social networks, yet quick to seize this type of declaration), the damage is done: four members of the jury point to "the general deterioration of the situation in Lebanon", and decided to postpone their visit. Exit therefore Pierre Assouline, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Pascal Brückner and Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. The first two were nevertheless very present ten years ago when, under the rule of the then president, Edmonde Charles-Roux, the Goncourt jury had already delivered its third and last list live from a land of Cedar hit the previous week by an attack. Edmonde, 92, had been formal: "We told them yes, we don't cancel each other."
Fear, for some, of uncertain security, recent and long stay in Jerusalem for another (Schmitt)... There are many reasons for withdrawing from the Lebanese epic. So there remains Didier Decoin (the only survivor of the 2012 crew), current president of the Goncourt Academy, Philippe Claudel, its secretary general, Paule Constant and Camille Laurens, a bit scalded by the decision of their colleagues, but that the We found, delighted to be on Lebanese soil, on this Monday 24 at the Residence des Pins, distinguished guests of the French ambassador. Asked about the "case", ambassador Anne Grillo said "understand that the tweet can arouse emotion", while noting that this is "an isolated tweet, offbeat and supported by no one" and congratulating itself that it had no impact on the festival's programming.
Meanwhile, in Paris, four authors relish their finalist status. Only a few more days, and one of them will win the Grail. Verdict Thursday November 3, at 1 p.m., place Gaillon.