Winner of the 2009 French-American Foundation Translation Prize
Small Lives (Vies miniscules), Pierre Michon’s first novel, won the Prix France Culture. Michon explains that he wrote it “to save my own skin. I felt in my body that my life was turning around. This book born in an aura of inexpressible joy and catharsis rescued me more effectively than my aborted analysis.”
In Small Lives, Michon paints portraits of eight individuals in his native region of La Creuse. In the process of exploring their lives, he explores the act of writing and his emotional connection to both. The quest to trace and recall these interconnected lives seared into his memory ultimately becomes a quest to grasp his own humanity and discover his own voice.
Offering the long view, as would a novel, of life as a concatenation of a great number of events between birth and death would not suit his stylistic inclinations. Instead, he focuses on a handful of scenes and musters his exceptional style — arguably, closer to the prose poem than to narrative prose — in an attempt to make them at once palpable and emblematic. Nothing is diluted; these are heady, compassionate distillations — like cognac.
— John Taylor, The Arts Fuse
An astonishingly rich, mythic new direction in modern French narrative.
— Guy Davenport
One of the best-kept secrets of modern French prose.
— Publishers Weekly
In the flow of Michon's meditations and narratives, the visionary becomes the actual, and the actual becomes the visionary.
— Leonard Michaels
Michon's prose tends to slow down in order to oblige you to hear its rhythms and also to see and touch and smell what is happening beneath it.
— Roger Shattuck, Harper's
The emotion, the forceful claims of the imagery, the painting of the starry night: Mr. Michon achieves what other writers wouldn't try, licensed as he is by keen regret and transfigured loss. More than other writers, Mr. Michon misses the poetry of the past, and in missing it he possesses it.
— Benjamin Lytal
In Small Lives by French author Pierre Michon, not only are we aware that we are reading great literature, but we have the privilege to accompany him on this journey in which he discovers the voice and style that make this an outstanding work of depth, substance and originality.
— Monica Carter, Three Percent
Rarely have I encountered a writer whose work felt so rewarding upon a first reading. . .Reading Small Lives, I felt profoundly that Michon was carrying on the mark of a true writer: one who speaks in his own voice while conveying with all its immediacy and flesh-and-blood possiblity of what it means to be human.
— Richard Kalich, The Review of Contemporary Fiction