The 41st “Goncourt des animaux” awarded to Cédric Sapin-Defour

The jury for the Prix Littéraire 30 Millions d’Amis, chaired by Didier Decoin, awarded its prize to the author of Son odeur après la pluie (Stock) on November 15.


The Prix Littéraire 30 Millions d’Amis, created in 1982 and known as the “Goncourt for animals“, lacks the renown of the classic Prix Goncourt, founded in 1903….Borrowing the location and customs of the famous literary prize, the Prix Littéraire 30 Millions d’Amis boasts a prestigious jury that would make many a prize organizer green with envy.


In this competition, the animal takes pride of place, whether or not it is the main character of the work. In France, where half of all households have a pet, 68% of French people consider their pet to be a fully-fledged member of the family.


In November, the month of prices, the weather is usually… miserable. But this Wednesday, November 15, 2023, the weather is rather mild. There’s no need to shelter under an umbrella in front of the Drouant restaurant on Place Gaillon in Paris to wait for the name of the winner of the 41st edition. On the second floor of the restaurant, a cluster of journalists and photographers wait patiently in the Salon Proust, which adjoins the famous Salon Goncourt.


What do the members of the jury have in common? They are all sensitive to the animal cause and very attached to this annual event. Didier Decoin, President of the Académie Goncourt, is President of the Prix 30 Millions d’Amis. The nine jurors include Reha Hutin, President of the 30 Millions d’Amis Foundation, academician Frédéric Vitoux, writers Didier Van Cauwelaert (Prix Goncourt 1994) and Irène Frain (Prix Interallié 2020), philosopher and novelist Frédéric Lenoir, and publisher Teresa Cremisi. Missing from the line-up, however, are the eagerly-awaited Michel Houellebecq (Prix Goncourt 2010) and Swiss author Joël Dicker (Goncourt des lycéens 2012), a regular at previous editions.


Sixteen books in the running for the 30 Millions d’Amis Literary Prize


Sixteen books are in the running. “This abundant selection once again demonstrates the extent to which animals are a literary subject of choice“, says Reha Hutin.


The Prix du Roman is endowed with a prize of 3,000 euros, and the Prix de l’Essai with a prize of 1,000 euros, which the winners must donate in full to the animal protection association of their choice.


Ballet of waiters twirling their silver trays. Snatches of sentences, exclamations and laughter escape from the Goncourt lounge. After a half-hour wait, the doors finally open. The suspense is over.


Teresa Crémisi announces: “The Prix 30 Millions d’Amis was awarded to Cédric Sapin-Defour for his book “Son odeur après la pluie”, published by Stock, on the second ballot. The Essay Prize went to “Comment parler baleine” by Tom Mutsill, published by Albin Michel.


Recognition for a bestseller with a wide readership


Released in March with a modest print run of 4,000 editions, Son odeur après la pluie tells the love story between its narrator, a writer and mountaineer, and his dog, Ubac, a Bernese Mountain Dog.


The book was one of last summer’s bestsellers, selling 75,000 copies by mid-September. It’s a minor publishing miracle. So why single out Cédric Sapin-Defour rather than promoting a lesser-known but talented writer?


We thought that readers would probably be annoyed if the Prix 30 Millions d’Amis didn’t crown this book, which is very popular with the general public“, explains Didier Decoin. However, the book was only shortlisted in the second round, the jury having considered whether to choose another book from the eight shortlisted fictions.


Once the winner’s name has been announced, the audience strides impatiently towards the door. Cédric Sapin-Defour finally arrived in the oval room, greeted by applause.


This prize means a lot to me,” the writer reacted to the cameras. It means a lot to me. This book is a love story between two different species, a man and his dog. If, at the end of the reading, you apprehend the dog or any other animal as a being in its own right, that’s great.” Then, he added quietly. “Happiness has its expiration dates. Taking on this dog meant accepting his love. It’s also the story of mourning after thirteen years together. Writing this book allowed me to live with Ubac a second time. He made me love and understand life differently.”


Piece of choice: “That’s how it is, he looked at me, I looked at him, we said to each other, it’s you and the Earth has changed axis, the mysteries of a life larger than ourselves, that’s all.


“A poetic book, written with great accuracy,” says Frédéric Vitoux.


An animal offers many joys, but its owner knows that he or she will have to endure a heartache that is irremediable, inescapable…


Irène Frain confides: “After having had two cats in succession, I don’t want to adopt any more. My cat kept me company at work. He wasn’t on my lap, but on the computer while I was writing.


The 30 Millions d’Amis Foundation also had the good idea of creating an Essay Prize. Indeed, many works in this field deserve to be highlighted.


Tom Mustill won the Essay Prize for his book “Parlez-vous baleine” (Do you speak whale?), as the jury felt it was important to demystify the whale, a highly intelligent animal. As a result, the dolphin, highly prized by writers, temporarily loses its first place on the literary podium.


Read also > THE PET PALACE


Featured Photo: The 30 Millions d’Amis Literary Prize jury and 2023 winner Cédric Sapin-Defour © Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis

Corine Moriou was a senior reporter for the L'Express group for 15 years. Today, she works as a freelance journalist in the fields of culture, well-being and escape. Never blasé, always ready!


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