RAYMOND CHANDLER AWARD 2023
Born in Casablanca on December 1st, 1944 – and if you think of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine, it’s almost a sign of fate – Daniel Pennac’s roots were in Corsica and Provence, but he grew up in Africa and then Nice, where he got a degree in literature. He was a teacher for many years, and even after he won fame for his novels, much of his output had his youngsters in mind, including a celebrated comic book, Lucky Luke – Lone Riders, co-written with a master of the Mediterranean noir genre, Tonino Benacquista. Indeed, Pennac was awarded an honorary degree in pedagogy from the University of Bologna in 2013. After trying his hand at science fiction (two novels), children’s literature and essays, the genesis of the nine-novel Belleville series was almost an accident. Pennac was in Brazil, where he happened upon the mystery or hard-boiled genre and enthused about it to the point of using it to leverage his own imagination and creativity and gain access to orality and morality, becoming a great writer himself. His first time around he used a pseudonym and co-wrote a sort of spy story with his friends Jean Bernard J. B. Pouy and Patrick Raynal. Masterfully translated into Italian by Luigi Bernardi, the novel came out as Binario morto in Italy in 1997. Pouy and Raynal goaded Pennac into writing his own crime novel, claiming he couldn’t pull it off. Pennac rose to the challenge and, courtesy of Gallimard’s Série Noire, introduced his hapless investigator and his motley crew of a family to the world. They would people his novels from 1985 to the present. Another great love of Pennac’s is the theater: not only did he write plays himself, he performed his own monologues or classics like Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville, staged in Italy in 2012. Pennac also paid homage to Fellini on the centenary of the filmmaker’s birth, reading The Law of the Dreamer at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, on January 20th, 2020. Renowned and adored by his readers for his humorous, versatile writing style, peppered with his love of paradox and hyperbole, Pennac is a virtuoso of personal and colorful prose swinging between the vernacular and a more purely literary style. He creates a world of simple folk, stock figures of his times, which he has gathered together over the years around his “little man”, Malaussène, who distills the author’s vision of the world. The stage for Pennac’s novels is the Parisian neighborhood Belleville, another great protagonist of his books since the very first. Poor, dirty, and shabby, Belleville is still a warm and bustling place, buzzing with life and humanity, teeming with Arabs, Africans, and muezzins who chant from a bathroom window, over cous cous served at all hours and unfailingly washed down with a glass of pastis. A splendid portrait of a world whose popularity Le Monde attributes to the fact that readers identify with the Malaussène clan.