20th century french books to read

There are some books that represent a country, a culture or a specific time in history in a very real way. In the 20th century, writers were inspired by war, art, new technologies, etc. French authors have always been celebrated for their intelligence, their prose and the subjects they discuss. If you want to read some of the most known and critically acclaimed 20th century French books, then you should read the 10 books we listed below. These have stood the test of time and are still extremely popular to this day.  

1L’Étranger (Albert Camus)

This 1942 novel by Albert Camus is a great classic. It tells the story of a French Algerian man named Meursault living in North Africa. After his mother dies, he attends her funeral but does not feel grief or sadness and a few days later he is sentenced to die and sent to jail because he killed an Arab man involved in a dispute with one of his friends. The book is divided in two: before and after the murder. Camus explained that: “’In our society, any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”  Alienation and existentialism are two themes explored in this novel.


2Voyage au bout de la nuit (Louis-Ferdinand Céline)

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~ Voyage au bout de la nuit ~ de Louis-Ferdinand Céline ~ @folio_livres ~ "Qu'on n'en parle plus". Ce sont les derniers mots de ce roman ; je les fais miens bien volontiers pour parler de ce monument de la littérature française ! 😥 Que ma lecture fut laborieuse… Nous suivons les déambulations de Ferdinand : dans la guerre, dans ses amours, aux colonies africaines, aux États-Unis, en tant que médecin en région parisienne et pour finir dans un asile de fous. Vous vous demandez comment ces vies ne peuvent en faire qu'une seule ? Moi aussi. J'ai eu du mal à raccrocher les wagons à de nombreuses reprises ; je lisais avec fluidité plusieurs pages et puis pof ! je perdais le fil. Ça blablate quand même beaucoup pour ne pas dire grand-chose, avec de grands discours ponctués de points de suspension. Pourquoi je suis allée jusqu'au bout ? Déjà parce que je veux le lire depuis longtemps, sans avoir osé jusque là (monument littéraire "intellectuel" + personnage de l'auteur). Ensuite parce que tout de même, j'ai lu pas mal de passages avec plaisir, au milieu de tous les autres inaudibles, donc ça me relançait ! Bref, je l'ai fini. "Qu'on n'en parle plus", j'ai déjà d'autres lectures en ligne de mire 😉 En bonus, l'avancée de mon tricot, qui m'a accompagnée en parallèle de cette lecture 🤗

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Voyage au bout de la nuit was published in 1932, between the First and Second World War and was Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s first novel. It is a semi-autobiographical novel of Céline’s time in WW1, living in Africa and the United States and becoming a doctor after the war. The antihero Ferdinand Bardamu returns to France after working at the Ford Motor Company in the United States and starts his medical practice in a fictional poor suburb outside Paris. The book discusses human nature, life in general and society in a pessimistic way but with some cynical humour. The author uses a lot of ellipsis’ and hyperboles which influenced the literary writing style in France.   


3Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique ( Michel Tournier)

This 1967 novel by Michel Tournier was awarded the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française the same year it was published. If you know and love Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe then you’ll probably enjoy the retelling of this story. If you don’t know the story then here it is: Crusoe is shipwrecked on a desert island and tries to control and civilize the nature on the island. An Araucanian (an indigenous inhabitant) appears and keeps Crusoe company. Crusoe decides he would rather stay on the island but Friday, the araucanian, would rather leave the island.