Philippe Djian was born in Paris in 1949 and grew up there. As a young man he worked for Gallimard Publishing House, which now publishes his books. He studied literature and attended journalism school but quit both after a few months. Afterward, he eked out a living working odd jobs. He worked at the the Librarie de France at Rockefeller Center in New York, earned money as a journalist in Columbia and tried his hand at selling books in France. Alongside these and various other occupations, Djian followed his writerly ambitions: he published his first book at the age of 22, a collection of 12 short stories titled »50 contre 1« (1981, t: 50 to 1), which he penned while working as a toll booth operator on the Paris-Nantes freeway. Even in these early stories, it is impossible to overlook the influence of modern American literature on Djian’s work: the writers of the beat generation, but also Henry Miller and J.D. Salinger, inspired Djian’s fast-paced writing style and precise, simple prose. In terms of content, Djian usually depicts situations from everyday life but makes excursions into the fantastic or, more often, the pornographic. The author’s third novel, »37.2˚ le matin« (1985, engl. »Betty Blue« 1998), turned him into a sensation overnight. The book achieved quite a cult following in the 1980s. It is the rapid, racy story of an amour fou between a handicapped writer named Zorg and young, seductive Betty. The destructive relationship comes to an abrupt end when the emotionally unstable woman is murdered by her lover.
The protagonists of Djian’s early works are almost always young, uprooted characters living from hand to mouth. That changes in his seventh novel, »Lent Dehors« (1991, t: Slow Outside), which centres around a couple in a troubled marriage whose straight, bourgeois life is overshadowed by their physical afflictions. This is also the first time Djian has weaved a second storyline into his work; a good portion of the novel is set 30 years in the past. The book matches his earlier work in terms of tempo and flow, but the characters appear more three-dimensional and profound. In his latest project, »Doggy Bag« (2009), a »soap opera« in novel form with a total of six episodes, Djian tells the story of Marc and David, two brothers who fell in love with same woman when they were young. At the time, the woman couldn’t decide between them and secretly left the city. Exactly twenty years later, she returns and throws the lives of the two brothers and their families into chaos. A pastoral romance in the style of a road movie.
Two of Djian’s works (»Blue Hell« and »Betty Blue«) have been successfully adapted for film. He is once again living and writing in Paris.
© international literature festival berlin