Selected Stories of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud
Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award Winner
Best Translated Book Award Shortlist
“The celebrated Châteaureynaud, who over the course of a distinguished career has created short tales that are not exactly contes cruels but which linger on the edge of darkness and absurdity.”
—New York Times
Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is well known to readers of French literature. This comprehensive collection—the first to be translated into English—introduces a distinct and dynamic voice to the Anglophone world. In many ways, Châteaureynaud is France’s own Kurt Vonnegut, and his stories are as familiar as they are fantastic.
A Life on Paper presents characters who struggle to communicate across the boundaries of the living and the dead, the past and the present, the real and the more-than-real. A young husband struggles with self-doubt and an ungainly set of angel wings in “Icarus Saved from the Skies,” even as his wife encourages him to embrace his transformation. In the title story, a father’s obsession with his daughter leads him to keep her life captured in 93,284 unchanging photographs. While Châteaureynaud’s stories examine the diffidence and cruelty we are sometimes capable of, they also highlight the humanity in the strangest of us and our deep appreciation for the mysterious.
“Châteaureynaud is a master craftsman, encapsulating weighty themes with pith and heart. In his hands, the short story is a Gothic cathedral whittled from a wine cork.”
“Châteaureynaud celebrates the quiet, hidden beauties of the world and the objects or knowledge we hold tight like talismans to protect us from its losses and horrors.”
—The Quarterly Conversation
“Châteaureynaud makes expert thematic use of both light and shadow to reveal his fantastical realms of wonder and fear. His unassuming prose startles as it entrances, holding readers on the edge of elegantly rendered, fantastical dream-worlds while all at once alluding to their more nightmarish qualities. In the style of Kafka and Poe, Châteaureynaud makes the supernatural seem not only present, but ubiquitous, inclined to encroach at any moment on the humdrum lives of unsuspecting mortals. More sinister than fairy tales, yet not quite definable as horror stories, Châteaureynaud’s whimsical writings leave one unsettled and alert, appreciating anew the possibilities of the chilly night air while simultaneously feeling the urge to draw nearer to the fire—just in case.”
—Catherine Bailey, Three Percent
“The collection will perhaps appeal especially to those who enjoy their fiction short and concise, not to mention intense and decidedly peculiar. If you . . . are interested in dream-logic, fantastic situations, the unexplainable and/or macabre . . . this volume delivers again and again.”
“Châteaureynaud’s stories are disorienting, bizarre, mythical. The stories don’t end with epiphanies or a tidy wrapping-up. Some of the endings are abrupt, even unsatisfying; they feel more like a beginning. So what? A Life on Paper is fantastic in both meanings: it’s fantastic, as in strange, unreal, weird, imaginary; and it’s fantastic, as in absolutely fucking awesome. People will call A Life on Paper magical realism. A few will call it irrealism. I don’t care what you call it. I just want you to read it.”
“Both classic and modern, strange and simple, Châteaureynaud’s stories remind not only of Vonnegut but of Gogol and Kafka. What’s endearing about the stories is the amount of tenderness running through them. Even in stories about bizarre cruelty (the title story tells of a father who had his daughter photographed a dozen times a day for her entire life), affection provides the glue.”
—Time Out Chicago
“A Life on Paper is a brief selection from more than thirty years of fiction. Châteaureynaud has a backlist for American readers that this book makes enticingly tangible, almost real. His own work is such that it might be subject of one of his stories. This might be all there is, the rest pure fabrication. The unreal, awaiting translation.”
—Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column
“These 22 curious tales verging on the perverse will strike new English readers of Châteaureynaud’s work as a wonderful find. Beautiful prose featuring ingenuous protagonists and clever, unexpected forays into horror are the hallmarks of these mischievous stories.”
“Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is 63 and has never published a book in English until now. A Life on Paper: Selected Stories, brilliantly translated by Edward Gauvin, opens the door at last. . . . Nothing matters in this book unless it has been told, everything is told. Open this book.”
—John Clute, Strange Horizons
“Châteaureynaud’s dance steps are so nimble that he seems, without effort, to show us what is best in others.”
“Châteaureynaud has sometimes been called the Kurt Vonnegut of France. However, this collection of 22 of Châteaureynaud’s stories—which are often other-worldly and not infrequently unsettling—may speak to some readers more directly of Kafka.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“As weird as they are elegant, as delicious as they are unsettling, these fables place Châteaureynaud in the secret brotherhood that has only exemplars, no definition: Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Nathanael West, Aimee Bender. We are lucky indeed to have them, in a very skilled translation.”
—John Crowley (Little, Big)
Table of Contents
Foreword by Brian Evenson
Publisher: Small Beer Press
All things there are the same, but the same as what, I could not say.
He walked into my antique shop one September afternoon. I knew right away he hadn’t come to buy. I have an eye for these things. Even taking a certain fashionable negligence into account, he wasn’t well-dressed enough. In truth, he was neither well nor poorly dressed: he simply couldn’t have cared less for his appearance. His kind is rare among my clients. I have no complaints about this. I hate mediocrity in all its forms.
So he hadn’t come to buy. I was making ready to turn him away with my customary skill when our gazes met. Make no mistake—I am by no means insensitive to the promise in a gaze . . . in fact, I’ve an eye for that too. He wasn’t like that; I would have staked my life on it. Something else gave me pause. A lived-in gaze is so rare these days.READ MORE
I made my way toward him unhurriedly. Nonchalantly, even. Perhaps he was one of those people for whom every encounter is a joust—in which case he’d already scored a point.
“You have quite a collection of handsome items,” he said.
Neither upper, nor lower middle class. I have an ear for it. But nothing common about him either. Clear speech, firm tones, fine timbre. His voice confirmed his gaze; this was no ordinary man.
“Very . . . personal items,” he concluded.
I appreciated his adjective without letting it show. Indeed, such items are precisely what I sell: it is up to the right person to present himself.
The stranger carefully picked up a mechanical toy displayed on a low table. “Günthermann’s perambulator . . . The lithographs look so fresh!”
He tripped the switch, and the baby whose head surfaced from the stroller shook his noisy rattle. “Charming, really!”
He set down the plaything and turned to face me. “Allow me to introduce myself: I am Delaunay.”
“Delaunay . . . wait—”
“Ah! So you’re a real person?”
He smiled in amusement. “So it would seem.”
My heart had begun foolishly to beat harder.COLLAPSE
Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is the author of nine novels, two young adult novels, and over one hundred short stories. Despite a lifelong fear of flying, he has been to Peru—his only time on a plane—and lived to pen a travel memoir about the experience. He is the recipient of the prestigious Prix Renaudot, Prix Goncourt de la nouvelle (for short stories), Prix Giono, Prix Valéry Larbaud, and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. His work has been translated into fourteen languages.
Born in Paris in 1947, Châteaureynaud was a solitary child who became a voracious and unprejudiced reader, ingesting Treasure Island as avidly as Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He studied English at the Sorbonne, discovering Stevenson, Shelley, Stoker, and Wells, and later took a degree in library science from the École Nationale Supérieure des Bibliothèques. In 1968, he embarked on a series of odd jobs—including antiques dealer, auto assembly line laborer—that comprised, in his words, an “apprenticeship in human nature,” cementing his sympathy for the marginal, outcast figures who would become his luckless, well-meaning, Everyman heroes and narrators. Grasset published his first collection in 1973, Le fou dans la chaloupe.
With novelist Hubert Haddad, and fellow Goncourt winners Frédéric Tristan and sinologist Jean Lévi, Châteaureynaud is a founding member of the contemporary movement La Nouvelle Fiction: “New” because it rose up against the prevailingly minimalist and confessional tendencies (autofiction) of recent French writing, seeking to rouse it from what critic Jean-Luc Moreau called “the slumber of psychological realism,” and to restore myth, fable, and fairy tale to a place of primacy in fiction.
In 1983 and 1990, Châteaureynaud was a representative of the Foreign Services Ministry to Quebec and then to Greece. He has been consistently involved with the Centre National du Livre and the SGDL (Société des Gens de Lettres de France). He plays an active part in fostering new talent, serving on the juries of such diverse prizes as the Fondation BNP-Paribas Young Writers Award, the international Prix Prométhée de la nouvelle, the Prix Renaudot, and the Prix Renaissance. Châteaureynaud sees his enthusiastic participation in these institutions as a way of repaying the literary community that has allowed him the luxury of dedication to his craft. An Officier des Arts et Lettres of France, he is currently the editorial director of foreign literature at Editions Dumerchez. In 2006, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.