This slim, delightful novel – the story of the rise of a painter amid the French Revolution and the Terror that followed – was the 2009 winner of the French Academy's Grand Prix du Roman.
By Christopher Byrd for The Barnes and Noble Review
Of the many things that draw us to literature, I suspect no quality outright eclipses the appeal of sustained rapture. In this most exalted state, when a text cements us in its circle and coaxes us to absorb its thoughts – not just sympathize or argue with them – we do not devour a book. It devours us. Pierre Michon's The Eleven – the 2009 winner of the French Academy's Grand Prix du Roman – is such a beast. This thin novel takes the form of a monologue directed toward a silent gentleman who's made his way to one of the Louvre's innermost galleries.
On the wall before him, behind bulletproof glass, rests a portrait of eleven members of the Committee for Public Safety – the tight-fisted organization that steered France into the period of terror associated with the French Revolution. (Lacking among the depictions of Robespierre, Saint-Juste, Couthon, and the rest is Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelle, who fell afoul of his fellow Committee members and was guillotined on April 5, 1794.)