Confrontational novelist wins new French book award aimed at English market

"Vernon Subutex" by Virginie Despentes
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A former prostitute who became an award-winning novelist and filmmaker, Virginie Despentes, has won a new prize dedicated to boosting the stature of French writers in the English-speaking world.

A jury of French writers and English and American literary agents voted to give the first Anais Nin Prize to Despentes for her latest novel, "Vernon Subutex 1", a fast-paced thriller set in a typically grimy underworld.

The award is named after France's famed mid-twentieth-century writer Anais Nin who was one of the few to write in both English and French and be translated in both directions.

Despentes, 45, is well-known in France for a controversial and confrontational series of books and films informed by her past work in a massage parlour in the southern city of Lyons.

Among the film adaptations are "Pretty Things" starring Marion Cotillard and feminist revenge flick "Rape Me".

"Vernon Subutex 1" treads familiar territory for Despentes, following a former record-store owner who becomes destitute and finds himself homeless and drifting among a motley crew of ex-porn stars, coked-up filmmakers and neo-Nazis.

The prize "rewards a singular voice and sensibility, an originality of imagination and audacity in the face of the moral order," the organisers said in a statement.

As part of the award, which aims to put the spotlight on Francophone writers yet to make a splash in the huge English-language market, "Vernon Subutex 1" will be translated into English.

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