According to the Guardian, it’s not just North Americans who prefer a ripping good yarn:
“I think it’s a great book but it’s going to struggle a bit in the UK,” says Jonathan Ruppin, promotions buyer at independent bookshop Foyles. “The British reading public are unduly wary of foreign fiction. And the plot is not the main aspect of this book – it’s more subservient to philosophical and sociological observations, and I find with the UK market now the plot is what people want more than anything else. Something esoteric and tricksy is difficult to sell.”
. . .
“Very little is translated [into English] but it’s hard to pin it to something perceivably French,” says Michael Sheringham, Marshal Foch professor of French literature at All Souls College in Oxford. “Perhaps it’s all a bit cerebral, which is maybe not what we want … Some people feel French cinema is all about watching paint dry, and in [some French books] books not a lot happens.”
. . .
Anderson has translated Nothomb’s latest French bestseller Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam (another autobiographical novel set in Japan), which is published in the US later this year as Tokyo Fiancée but as yet has no UK publication date. “In America people know of her but she’s not hugely successful. Perhaps this is because her writing is a little harder, a bit more subtle – her language and the humour is certainly very subtle,” suggests Anderson. “In the US they want more of a story – everything is very plot-driven – and Amélie Nothomb is quite subtle and not about the plot.”
Ruppin believes that the most important thing for the majority of British readers is storyline, and the ability to empathise with protagonists in the story. “Being asked in our fiction to question the whole premise of our culture is not necessarily what we’re looking for, whereas maybe the French are. The cliché is of a man in a beret with a cigarette and red wine deliberating the meaning of life deep into the night – that’s not the British way.”
Those sound like my kind of books!