The jury of the literary prize awarded this Wednesday, November 23 its 40th award to Sibylle Grimbert, for The Last of His Ownabout the great penguins.
It would almost be a tradition. Each year, on the occasion of “Goncourt of Animals”, the weather is terrible. This Wednesday, November 23 was no exception: it was raining. Du Goncourt, the Foundation Prize “Thirty Million Friends” has indeed (almost) everything: the illustrious salon of the Drouant restaurant and the glitter of a renowned jury, gathered for a lunch whose vestiges of whipped cream on the plates leave one to suspect that the authors above all talked a lot.
The jury was this year in full force: the president of Goncourt Didier Decoin, the academician Frédéric Vitoux, the president of the Reha Hutin foundation, Michel Houellebecq, Joël Dicker, Didier van Cauwelaert, Irène Frain, Frédéric Lenoir and Teresa Cremisi. He is the author of The truth about the Harry Quebert affair who revealed the name of the winner of the literary prize, Sybille Grimbert for The Last of His Own (Anne Carrière) and announced that of the test prize, François Sarano, professional diver and former scientific adviser to Captain Cousteau, for In the name of sharks (South Acts).
“A moving gravity”
“On the novels, we were very fast, on the essays, it was more complicated”, explains Frédéric Lenoir. Sibylle Grimbert, elected in the first round of votes, arrived to applause. “It impresses me more than I thought!” The jurors did not fail to praise his novel. Michel Houellebecq the first. According to him, this novel, a moving ode to the last great auk extinct in 1844, is the “book that has impressed him the most since he has been on this jury”.
For this great animal lover, let’s remember his exhibition “Stay alive” dedicated to his dog Clément, “the animal improves the man, there is no doubt about that”. Proof of this is that there was a scent of friendship and celebration in the jury. At the general request of the jurors, who wanted to know what a penguin’s voice sounds like, Sibylle Grimbert began to sing like the animal. That’s to say? “I imagine it as something very deep, like music by Stravinsky, taken from Ukrainian polyphonic songs that are very long, very sad, dark but at the same time quite beautiful.”
“Since I have been on the jury, this is the book that has impressed me the most”
Joël Dicker and Didier Decoin were pleasantly surprised by this reading and in particular by the emotion that emanated from it. “I never imagined that a great penguin, in an icy landscape, a priori rather cold, could make my heart beat faster, make my cheeks heat up”, explained the president of Goncourt. For her part, Irène Frain discovered a universe: “Sibylle Grimbert has ventured into difficult terrain. She showed an extraordinary imagination, moreover.
Frédéric Vitoux praised “moving gravity” of one “approach without any anthropomorphism” of the penguin character. “It’s the first time that I really feel a real character who is not human with whom we communicate without language”, explained Michel Houellebecq. Teresa Cremisi praised “a rather extraordinary book, one of the most beautiful I have read”adding that the author “deserved the light that we try to give him”. Didier Decoin has also slipped that he would have “well placed in the Goncourt selection, but that he did not know him yet”.
The sixth mass extinction
This prize is all the more important for Sybille Grimbert as it resonates with the sixth mass extinction that we are experiencing. “I am happy that it is a wild animal that has been put forward”explains the president of the foundation, Reha Hutin because “they have no legal status yet”. And Michel Houellebecq, to talk about animal suffering in these terms: “I am against bullfighting. It’s very annoying because I really dislike being in agreement with Aymeric Caron, but hey, I can’t help it..
Concerning the essay prize awarded to François Sarano, Frédéric Vitoux underlined that this work was “very interesting” in that it delivers a “scholarly and relatively accessible study on an animal that has a disturbing connotation”. And to add: “There was a good balance between a book that teaches us a lot, and a form of scholarly simplicity.” We leave the final word to Didier van Cauwelaert: “The penguin and the shark are two unloved, two unknowns and two anti-heroes. They enter the great bestiary of literature.