The author of “Adèle” and “The Perfect Nanny” (one of the Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2018) likes the fact that her shelves are a mess: “It takes me a long time to find the book I need, and very often I find another one I had totally forgotten about.”
What books are on your nightstand?
A collection of short stories by Anton Chekhov and another one by Maupassant. “The Journal of Jules Renard,” which continues to move me and inspire me.
What’s the last great book you read?
“Ce qui reste de nos vies,” by Zeruya Shalev. I admire her so much. She is an extraordinary writer.
What’s your go-to classic?
My favorite classic is probably “Anna Karenina.” But I love “Madame Bovary” also.
You are President Macron’s representative for the promotion of French language and culture. What books would you recommend in that capacity to American readers?
I would recommend the complete work of Maryse Condé, a great Guadeloupean writer, or Alain Mabanckou, who teaches at U.C.L.A. and has written excellent novels such as “Broken Glass.”
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
Svetlana Alexievich, Toni Morrison, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Alaa Al Aswany, Maryse Condé, Patrick Modiano, Laura Kasischke.
Whose opinion on books do you most trust?
My publisher’s opinion, probably.
When do you read?
All the time.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
What I find magical about literature is when the voice of the writer is unique but you feel at the same time that he or she has managed to express universality.
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I can read anything, but I must confess that I am not a huge fan of science fiction or fantasy.
What book by somebody else do you wish you had written?
“Blonde,” by Joyce Carol Oates.
How do you organize your books?
Oh my god! I don’t organize them at all. They are a total mess, but I like that. It takes me a long time to find the book I need, and very often I find another one I had totally forgotten about.
What’s the last book you recommended to someone in your family?
“The Children Act,” by Ian McEwan.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
“Robot Dreams,” by Isaac Asimov.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Thérèse Desqueyroux. And my favorite villain is Vautrin in Balzac’s novels or Javert in “Les Misérables.”
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was very curious and impatient. I wanted to read everything! Jules Verne was probably one of my first revelations. But Jack London is the one who made me want to be a writer myself. Martin Eden was a shock.
If you could require the American president to read one book, what would it be? And the French president?
For the both of them, Pascal’s “Pensées” or Montaigne’s “Essais.”
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Chekhov, Philip Roth and Virginia Woolf.
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
“The Man Without Qualities,” by Robert Musil. I know that it is a masterpiece, but I found it very boring. The last book I didn’t finish is “Fire and Fury,” by Michael Wolff: very interesting but too depressing.
Whom would you want to write your life story?
I trust only myself for that.
What do you plan to read next?
I am planning to reread “Histoires extraordinaires,” by Edgar Allan Poe. It is an inspiration for my next novel.