Our Literary Favorites of the Year

Selection Livres Thrillers

From the story of the shaved woman in Chartres to the life story of Panayotis Pascot, the latest Goncourt Prize winner, and the childhood tale of the greatest painter of the 20th century... With hundreds of books released this year, it's tough to choose which ones to put under the Christmas tree. The Do It Team has sifted through them to bring you only the true favorites of the year. The selection of the best novels to gift is right here.


The Scarred Childhood of Francis Bacon

Great Read: Francis Bacon's Nanny by Maylis Besserie

For Whom? The art-loving uncle, seeking intimate stories about highly desirable artistic personalities.

Synopsis: Who was Jessie Lightfoot, the young woman who watched over Francis Bacon's childhood? Until her death in 1951, she was a vital emotional anchor for the renowned Irish artist and a loyal partner in all sorts of mischief. Did she influence, in any way, the art of one who would become one of the most important painters of the last century? She certainly brought a new hue to the painter's sulfurous palette, characterized by brutality, tragedy, and cruelty—an echo of the violence endured in his childhood, softened by the tenderness of his companion.

From Dublin to London, through the Cornwall where this fantastic Nanny grew up, and Ireland in the first half of the 20th century, Maylis Besserie takes her readers on a journey through the various inspirations of the painter. Throughout the pages, the author, known for "Le Tiers Temps" (winner of the Prix Goncourt for the first novel in 2020), paints the fresco of this shady world governed by the artists who nourish it with their creations: Diego Velázquez, Vincent van Gogh, and even Pablo Picasso. A remarkable novel!


A Powerful Inner Monologue

Great Read: Melancholia I by Jon Fosse

For Whom? The cousin who recently traveled to Norway and developed a passion for Nordic painters.

Synopsis: How can an artist convey pain, fear, or joy through a stroke of the brush? How can the stages of life be hinted at through the choice of colors or light? The protagonist of this novel is none other than Lars Hertervig (1830-1902), a globally renowned Nordic painter. From his studies in Düsseldorf to a stint in a psychiatric asylum, grappling with nervous disorders—through two interior monologues, laden with obsessions and repetitions, the painter bares himself, revealing all his melancholy.

In his first novel translated into French, Jon Fosse delves into the painter's mind, exposing even his darkest thoughts, offering a glimpse into the martyrdom of this artist. The result is a fascinating, profoundly intimate, and impactful narrative. The Norwegian painter's madness is approached by the author's genius up close, so palpable and truly distressing... "Melancholia I" is a book that leaves one not entirely unscathed, undoubtedly a reason why it clinched the Nobel Prize in Literature.


Panayotis Pascot Bares All with a Sharp Pen

Great Read: The Next Time You'll Bite the Dust by Panayotis Pascot

For Whom? Brothers in search of a gripping autobiographical story, one that offers a sharp critique of our current society.

Synopsis: Behind the somewhat melancholic clown mask, especially in his chronicles for Le Petit Journal and Quotidien, lies a very talented writer. Panayotis Pascot debuts with his first novel, a poignant autobiographical tale in which he tells his own story, becoming a mirror for an entire generation. Upon learning that his father is dying, the author immerses himself wholeheartedly in this text, settling scores to better let him go.

What does it mean to be a man? In the midst of the transition to adulthood, he engages in an internal battle against toxic masculinity and the role of men in a heteronormative society. Panayotis Pascot reflects on his Oedipal ties with his father, as well as his sometimes complicated relationship with sexuality and desire. He speaks of two of his lovers, affectionately nicknamed Life and Happiness. With a remarkably modern pen, he recounts severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and above all, the slow and painful acceptance of his homosexuality. A sharp narrative, yet tinted with humor.


The Poignant Story of the Shaved Woman in Chartres

Great Read: You Know Nothing About Me by Julie Héraclès

For Whom? The history-loving grandfather passionate about old photographs.

Synopsis: In the beginning, there was only this photograph taken by Robert Capa on August 16, 1944. In stark black and white, you can see a shaved woman, cradling a baby in her arms, walking through the streets of Chartres. Against the backdrop of the wild purges carried out after the Liberation, this book tells the story of Simone Touseau, known as the "Tondue de Chartres", this free-spirited and passionate woman who walks with her head held high. This narrative unfolds Simone's story, her close ones, from her childhood to her role as a translator for the Germans. She falls deeply in love with Otto, a soldier of the Third Reich, a love that gives birth to Françoise.

"In three days, I will be 23. I will die before that. They won't miss me." Branded a collaborator, Simone will be shaved, marked on her forehead with a red-hot iron, like many others, and exhibited in public. Through a richly documented novel and drawing inspiration freely from this photograph, Julie Heracles, in her debut novel, recounts the life of this woman. The author delivers a heartbreaking and poignant narrative, immersing the reader in the post-World War II period, amidst denunciations and collaborations.


Goncourt Prize for a Great Love Story

Great Read: Watch Over Her by Jean Baptiste Andrea

For Whom? The intellectual great aunt who takes pride in reading every Goncourt Prize winner since 1957.

Synopsis: Mimo experiences the final moments of a tumultuous life, confined with the brothers who welcomed him years ago. While awaiting the end, he watches over his last masterpiece, a mysterious Pietà, kept away from external eyes by the Vatican, such is its powerful impact on those who see it. Who is this man, and what is the love story that seems to have left an indelible mark on him? This is the tale of a genius sculptor, born into poverty and apprenticed to an unremarkable stonecutter. When Mimo falls in love with an adventurous aristocrat, Viola Orsini, he has no idea that this extraordinary person ahead of their time will disrupt his entire life.

Jean Baptiste Andrea, in his fourth novel, envisions a poignant love story set against the backdrop of Italy between the wars, amidst the rise of fascism and Mussolini's ascent to power. The author, with clear and precise writing, also paints a portrait of Italy, the birthplace of so many artistic geniuses. The highlight? The novel's great beauty lies in the artistic creation of the sculptor, with descriptions so brilliantly crafted that they read like a quest for the Holy Grail. Brilliant!


The Novel on the Harsh Reality of Ecological Transition

Great Read: Humus by Gaspard Koenig

For Whom? Any eco-conscious parent anxious about the ecological crisis.

Synopsis: "Humus" narrates the odyssey of two young agronomy students critical of intensive agriculture. Their goal? To change the world, or at least give it a try. Kevin, the son of farmworkers, and Arthur, born into the bourgeoisie, forge a friendship after attending a conference titled "Advances and Challenges in Geodrilology" (the science of earthworms). One aims to launch a vermicomposting startup, donning the uniform of the perfect defector on the stage of green capitalism, while the other seeks to regenerate the family field ravaged by pesticides.

A seamless camaraderie quickly develops between these two modern-day explorers. While pledging never to abandon earthworms and to dedicate their careers and lives to them, they soon confront the harsh reality of rural life. Gaspard Koenig, known for "Octave Had 20 Years", navigates a path filled with obstacles, exploring the vices and virtues of a generation eager to change the world, earning the Interallié Prize for this compelling and realistic account of two idealists.

Discover also 5 feel-good movies to enjoy before Christmas and must-see exhibitions in Paris this winter.

written by

Read this next

The week of Do It