Marie NDiaye

Portrait Marie NDiaye
© Ali Ghandtschi

Marie NDiaye was born in Pithiviers in 1967. She grew up in a southern suburb of Paris, where her mother, a teacher from, had moved to after separating from her Senegalese father. NDiaye is considered to be a »child prodigy of French literature«. Her first novel, a Proustian study of a young man, was published by a well-known publisher when she was 17 years old. Her next work »Comédie classique« (1987), brilliant and artistic in equal measure, consists of one single sentence, which lasts for over a hundred pages. Her language use has since become increasingly simple, without losing the ingenuity of exact observation and the characteristic tone of subliminal threat and threatening disaster. For this reason critics have placed her in the tradition of Kafka, James and Faulkner, and she has been given a unique place in contemporary literature.

The ten novels that NDiaye has written since often present unresolved secrets, depicting outsiders who slave away in order to gain recognition despite inadequate strength and feelings of inferiority – and find this quest overwhelming. In »En Famille« (1990; »Among Family«, 1997), for example, an 18-year-old returns to her family after a long journey and barely comes to terms with the fact that she will not be recognised. In the prize-winning novel »Rosie Carpe« (2001) a woman – who is expecting a child but is unable to remember how it was conceived – follows her family from to Guadeloupe, where she tries without much success to escape the vicious circle of her own awkwardness, wretched relationships and a brutalised environment. In NDiaye’s most recent novel, »Mon cœur à l’ètroit« (2007; t: My cramped heart) a bourgeois married couple, both teachers, are torn from their everyday lives as they experience sudden ostracisation, even by their own children, without having any idea of why. Hints which are not followed up by explanations, precise portraits of people, which only make space for ambivalent judgements, and open endings engender continued tension and evoke a strange, yet familiar world that fragments into comic and tragic facets.

NDiaye’s work has been awarded the Prix Femina and she has been given an exhibitioner’s accommodation allowance in the Villa Médicis in Rome. She has also been successful as a playwright. »Papa doit manger« (2003; t: Daddy has to eat) is the second play by a woman to be included in the the repertoire of the Comédie Française. Initially, it was conceived of as a radio play – as was »Hilda« (1999), NDiaye’s early play about a high-born lady who spasmodically strives for the friendship of her housemaid.

Other works by NDiaye include three children’s books, an essay and a collection of short stories. The author has made contributions to scripts and to a new French translation of the Bible. Since September 2007 she has been living in Berlin with her husband, the writer Jean-Yves Cendrey, and children.

© international literature festival berlin