The French author, well-known and widely read the world over despite his young age, is the recipient of Noir in Festival’s prestigious lifetime achievement award.
The lifetime achievement award, instituted by Irene Bignardi in 1988 in an agreement with the Raymond Chandler Estate, the foundation handled by the heirs of Graham Greene, isn’t straying from Europe again this year – John Banville was the winner in 2020 – and goes to a French writer who, despite being only in his forties, has attracted a devoted following all over the world.
In fact, according to a survey by the magazine Livres Hebdo, Guillaume Musso, born in Antibes in 1974, with a great-grandfather who emigrated from Piedmont to the south of France in the early 20th century, was the number one author read by the French during the lockdown. Musso is used to breaking records, however: since 2001 he has been turning out roughly a novel a year. And considering he hailed from provincial France and had no strings to pull, it’s remarkable that he is now the bestselling author in the country, translated into 42 languages, with twenty titles to his credit and millions of copies sold worldwide.
Musso’s debut novel was Skidamarink (2001), a very well-received thriller that kicks off with the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. The book that made his name, though, was the 2004 Et après…, which has sold over a million copies, been translated into twenty or so languages, and turned into a film in 2008: Afterwards, directed by Gilles Bourdos and starring John Malkovich, Romain Duris, and Evangeline Lilly. Since cinema was a major influence on Musso, it’s only natural that the structure of some of his novels recalls that of a number of films. And given that he belongs to a generation that gets its cinema on the small screen, his own writing tends to be very visual, with a film-editing touch to the plots and a suspense that glues a reader to the page from beginning to end. It’s the same phenomenon behind the British and American TV series Musso adores, such as Six Feet Under, Lost, The Sopranos, Spooks, 24, The West Wing, Mad Men, and The Wire.
Virtually all of Musso’s novels have been bestsellers. To name a few: Sauve-moi (2005), Seras-tu là? (2006), Je reviens te chercher (2008), La fille de papier (2011), Central Park (2014), L’instant présent (2015), Un appartement à Paris (2017), La jeune fille et la nuit (2018), La vie secrète des écrivains (2019), La vie est un roman (2020), and L’inconnue de la Seine (2021).
The underlying thread of nearly all his books is resilience, the ability to soldier through hardships and overcome setbacks by getting back on your feet and starting over; and also knowing how to seize opportunities and not being afraid of change. Creativity, however, is another core theme of many of Musso’s novels, and particularly writing itself. Suspense is his trademark, as we have seen, along with his cast of characters, masterfully and feelingly drawn.
“I like to tell original stories that the readers will experience just like the characters, laughing or crying – in any case, when they reach the end, feeling happier than they were before,” says Musso.
That Musso’s literary inspiration draws on the 19th – century French fantastique tradition is clear. “My mother was a librarian,” recalls Musso, “and I grew up with books as a child. I read all the French classics – Nodier, Gautier, and Mérimée – to whom I might add Maupassant and even Barjavel.” By mixing the supernatural into tales set in the present, Musso has rejuvenated this literary genre, so successful in earlier times.
As to contemporary fiction, Musso adores novels that delve into the unconscious and our emotions, like those of Milan Kundera, Philip Roth, Stephen King, and Dennis Lehane, but he’s also a fan of Jean-Cristophe Grangé and Tonino Benacquista. He has been known to claim Georges Simenon as his model and borrows the latter’s own questions (as do Modiano and Manchette): who are the living and who are the dead? How do we recognize their value, and how to we really come into contact with them?
Which is precisely the theme of his latest novel, which he’ll be presenting in Milan at Noir in Festival, on December 12th, the day he receives the Raymond Chandler Award. L’inconnue de la Seine, published in Italy by La nave di Teseo and currently flying off the shelves, shuns earlier New York settings and takes readers to a foggy, pre-Christmas Paris, as a young woman is fished out of the Seine, alive, but minus her memory. Yet her identity is that of another woman, and this one is dead. This is a job for the unconventional affairs office of the Paris police – a job that captain Roxane, kept on a short leash by his superiors, has been long awaiting. His investigation soon revolves around an unsettling enigma: can a person be dead and alive at the same time?
This past October, Musso was on the set of a TV movie, The Reunion, an adaptation of his novel La jeune fille et la nuit by France 2, with Rai TV as exclusive partner, and featuring Italian actor Giacomo Fusco.
Italian readers have shown that they appreciate Musso’s literary talents and his firm control of his plots and characters. After all, south of the Alps the French polar has often come out the winner in the contest with Anglo-American fiction, in terms of sales and popularity. Noir in Festival accordingly celebrates that special French slant on genre fiction with a talk devoted to Guillaume Musso and an award for this most-read exponent of the contemporary French school of noir.
2021 L’inconnue de la Seine, Paris, Calmann-Lévy
2020 La vie est un roman, Paris, Calmann-Lévy
2019 La vie secrète des écrivains, Paris, Calmann-Lévy
2018 La jeune fille et la nuit, Paris, Calmann-Lévy
2017 Un appartement à Paris, Paris, XO éditions
2016 La fille de Brooklyn, Paris, XO éditions
2015 L’instant présent, Paris, XO éditions
2014 Central Park, Paris, XO éditions
2013 Demain, Paris, XO éditions
2012 7 ans après, Paris, XO éditions
2011 L’appel de l’ange, Paris, XO éditions
2010 La fille de papier, Paris, XO éditions
2009 Que serais-je sans toi?, Paris, XO éditions
2008 Je reviens te chercher, Paris, XO éditions
2007 Parce que je t’aime, Paris, XO éditions
2006 Seras-tu là?, Paris, XO éditions
2005 Sauve-moi, Paris, XO éditions
2004 Et après…, Paris, XO éditions
2001 Skidamarink, Paris, Éditions Anne Carrière; Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 2020