Recently I interviewed Tristan Garcia, one of France’s most vaunted young novelists, and mentioned that I’d been teaching Michel Tournier’s The Erl-King. His eyes took on sudden light and we spent the next ten minutes vying with each other in our praise of Tournier and of this delicious, dense, batty novel. Neither of us, perhaps, went as far as the New Yorker, which in 1972 described The Erl-King as ‘the most important book to come out of France since Proust’. And yet we marvelled that a masterpiece such as this could have sunk, alongside its author, almost without trace. Now The Erl-King has been reissued in the hope that new readers might come to its many wonders and lose themselves in the labyrinthine mind of its hero, Abel Tiffauges.
When Le Roi des aulnes appeared in 1970, the 48-year-old Tournier had just quit his job as editor-in-chief of the publishing company Plon. His first novel, Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique, had been a hit both at home and abroad, winning the Grand Prix du Roman of the Académie