Melville: A Novel (Paperback)

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Melville: A Novel Cover Image
By Jean Giono, Paul Eprile (Translated by), Edmund White (Introduction by)
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Staff Reviews

Even as he completely disregards the "facts" of Melville's life, Giono brilliantly captures some of Melville's energy, in this tale of seafaring, romance, and artistic inspiration. Giono's "introduction" to the first French translation of Moby-Dick gives us insight not into the novel's composition or historical production but rather into the energy that has drawn readers to this American--and now French--masterpiece.

-- Adam

— From Adam F. Staff Picks


Originally published to promote his French translation of Moby-Dick, Jean Giono's Melville: A Novel is an astonishing literary compound of fiction, biography, personal essay, and criticism.

In the fall of 1849, Herman Melville traveled to London to deliver his novel White-Jacket to his publisher. On his return to America, Melville would write Moby-Dick. Melville: A Novel imagines what happened in between: the adventurous writer fleeing London for the country, wrestling with an angel, falling in love with an Irish nationalist, and, finally, meeting the angel’s challenge—to express man’s fate by writing the novel that would become his masterpiece.

Eighty years after it appeared in English, Moby-Dick was translated into French for the first time by the Provençal novelist Jean Giono and his friend Lucien Jacques. The publisher persuaded Giono to write a preface, granting him unusual latitude. The result was this literary essay, Melville: A Novel—part biography, part philosophical rumination, part romance, part unfettered fantasy. Paul Eprile’s expressive translation of this intimate homage brings the exchange full circle.

Paul Eprile was a co-winner of the French-American Foundation's 2018 Translation Prize for his translation of Melville.

About the Author

Jean Giono (1895–1970) was born and lived most of his life in the town of Manosque, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Largely self-educated, he started working as a bank clerk at the age of sixteen and reported for military service when World War I broke out. He saw action in several battles, including Verdun, and was one of only two members of his company to survive. After the war, he returned to his job and family in Manosque and became a vocal, lifelong pacifist. After the success of Hill, which won the Prix Brentano, he left the bank and began to publish prolifically. During World War II Giono’s outspoken pacifism led some to accuse him, unjustly, of defeatism and of collaboration with the Nazis; after France’s liberation in 1944, he was imprisoned and held without charges. Despite being blacklisted after his release, Giono continued writing and achieved renewed success. He was elected to the Académie Goncourt in 1954.

Paul Eprile is a longtime publisher (Between the Lines, Toronto), as well as a poet and translator. He is currently at work on the translation of Jean Giono’s 1951 novel, The Open Road (forthcoming from NYRB), and lives on the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario, Canada.

Edmund White is the author of twenty-five books, including The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading, which was published in the spring of 2018.

Praise For…

"An intelligent and moving translation by Paul Eprile...Giono’s book is, as Eprile maintains, 'A Novel,' a rich and haunting 'voyage imaginaire,' shedding light not just on its ostensible subject, but on its author, love and loss, and the process and calling of artistic extraordinary book which richly deserves this belated attention and fine translation. " —Nicholas Hewitt, TLS

“A giddy fantasia on the life of Herman Melville…It’s a fetching little tale.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"For Giono, literature and reality overlap the way that waves sweep over the shore, one ceaselessly refreshing the other and, in certain wondrous moments, giving it a glassy clearness.” —Ryu Spaeth, New Republic
"This lyrical novel reimagines Herman Melville’s life and adds a hauntingly atmospheric spin….This isn’t your typical fictionalized life of a writer—instead, it’s an unexpected meditation on the convergence of two literary lives.” —Kirkus Reviews 

"Giono illustrates how an author’s artistic output enriches and illuminates his life, in ways that historical facts cannot provide...Giono expands Melville’s context, painting him as a transatlantic heir to Milton and Shakespeare. At the same time, he also expands Melville’s own influence, cementing his impact on French culture, which has been considerable.” —Adam Fales, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Giono’s writing possesses a vigor, a surprising texture, a contagious joy, a sureness of touch and design, an arresting originality, and that sort of unfeigned strangeness that always goes along with sincerity when it escapes from the ruts of convention.” –André Gide, unpublished letter, 1929

“Melville is a powerful testament to the magic of words.” —Edmund White, The New York Review of Books

“After reading Pour saluer Melville, which is a poet’s interpretation of a poet—‘a pure invention,’ as Giono said in a letter—I was literally beside myself. How often is it the foreigner who teaches us to appreciate our own authors!” —Henry Miller
Product Details
ISBN: 9781681371375
ISBN-10: 1681371375
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: September 12th, 2017
Pages: 128
Language: English