Michel Tournier – One of My Favorite Fiction Writers of the 20th Century

This is the third in a series.



Michel Tournier

Born: December 19, 1924     Died: January 18, 2016

Michel Tournier was an extraordinarily original and somewhat controversial writer who became famous in his home country of France but who never received the world-wide acclaim which his work deserves.

There have been a lot of adjectives used to describe Tournier’s work, not all of them nice.  Grotesque, perverse, beautiful, weird, unseemly, crypto-mystical, subversive, haunting, Germanophile, unsavory, kinky, visionary, shocking.  Michel Tournier was a one of a kind original who really didn’t bother with what the public thought of his writing.  He titled his first collection of stories ‘The Fetishist’.

“There is much to question in Tournier’s enterprise, and many, out of refinement or faith, will not approve it.  But I can think of nothing that matches the verve and daring of these imaginings.  They open the sluices wide to the unconscious materials that are the very stuff of art’s pity and terror.  His way of transforming these into the legends of spirit restores to the novel a sense of “high stakes” that has long been missing.” – Sven Birkerts, ‘An Artificial Wilderness’   

Once you start to actually read his novels, you discover he is not at all difficult to understand and appreciate.  For a reader who has not yet read Tournier, I would first recommend two of his novels which are based on other well-known stories or legends thus making them more accessible.  ‘The Four Wise Men’ is a retelling of the famous biblical story, and ‘Friday or the Other Island’ is a retelling of the Robinson Crusoe story.

After reading those two short and relatively down-to-earth works, you will hopefully be an eager fan of his work and ready for his all-out masterpiece, ‘The Ogre’, also known as ‘The Erl-King’.  This is the novel where Tournier’s hero-monster Abel Tiffauges confronts Nazism.

“Abel Tiffauges is as complex and dangerous in English as in French; his themes are eternal and disturbing. To follow his dark path is a magnificent experience.” – Marian Engel, New York Times.

The fiction of Michel Tournier has the story quality of the finest fiction and at the same time presents ideas that are upsetting and deliberately provocative   It is a wild ride.

Fiction by Michel Tournier that I strongly recommend:   The afore-mentioned ‘The Ogre’, ‘Friday’, and ‘The Four Wise Men’.  His other works including ‘Gemini’, ‘The Golden Droplet’, and his bizarre collection of stories ‘The Fetishist’ are also excellent reads.

Quotes about Michel Tournier

“Tournier, a private, even outsiderly, man, was impervious to literary trends and intellectual fashions. He saw himself as a professional artisan, with an old-fashioned notion of the writer’s duty to entertain and question received values.” – David Coward, The Guardian

Quotes by Michel Tournier

“The first lesson of culture is that the world is vast, the past unfathomable, and that billions of men think and have thought differently than we, our neighbors and our countrymen. Culture leads back to the universal and engenders scepticism.”

“We must be careful to preserve life’s spontaneity as well as the flexibility to adapt to new situations.”

“Books are essential. Literature is the oxygen of the soul.”



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