The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild

Mathias Enard

Translated by Frank Wynne

French paperback with flaps, 496 pages
Published 4 October 2023

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To research his thesis on contemporary agrarian life, anthropology student David Mazon moves from Paris to La Pierre-Saint-Christophe, a village in the marshlands of western France. Determined to capture the essence of rurality, the intrepid scholar shuttles around on his moped to interview local residents. Unbeknownst to David, in these nondescript lands, once theatres of wars and revolutions, Death leads the dance. When an existence ends, the Wheel of Life recycles its soul and hurls it back into the world as microbe, human or wild animal, sometimes in the past, sometimes in the future. Only once a year do Death and the living observe a temporary truce, during a gargantuan three-day feast where gravediggers gorge themselves on food, libations and language. Brimming with Mathias Enard’s characteristic wit and encyclopaedic brilliance, The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild is a riotous novel where the edges between past and present are constantly dissolving against a Rabelaisian backdrop of excess – and a paradoxically macabre paean to life’s richness.

Guardian Books of the Year 2023 | New Yorker Books of the Year 2023

‘Enard is a writer of singular talent…. Just buy it and open up the field diary of a pretentious young man in the arse-end of nowhere in France, and see what a really great writer can do with almost anything.’
John Phipps, The Times

‘Énard is wickedly, brilliantly, subversive of sanctity…. Despite its macabre title and subject matter, this novel is a capacious celebration of life, love and language.’
— Ruth Scurr, Guardian

The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild is an earthy, Rabelaisian riot of a novel, dripping with slime, bugs, gluttony, death and bawdy decay…. It is a dizzying concoction, which almost topples under its own inventive weight. In the end, though, it is held together by David’s own story which, like Maître Susane’s, carries a surprising tenderness.’
Sophie Pedder, Economist

‘[T]he real story becomes history, the fluidity of time, the democratizing powers of death, and – through a stew of Buddhist, Christian and Islamic philosophies – the cyclical jumble of life. This is Énard at his best, calling to mind the erudite historical sweep of his 2008 debut, Zone.’
Martin Riker, New York Times

‘When French gravediggers gather for their annual banquet in Mathias Enard’s magnificent new novel, they banish the ghosts by feasting on a grand, Rabelaisian scale…. In The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild the focus shifts from the macroscopic to the microscopic, opening up La Pierre-Saint-Christophe to the relentless fractal curiosity of a writer fascinated by the depths of the infinitely small. The epic nosh-up, hosted by the local undertaker Martial Pouvreau, allows Enard to engage in an alternative history of France, looking to the inexhaustible resources of the provinces rather than to the gilded stories of the metropolis. The challenges for the translator of Enard’s remarkable novel are endless from the rendering of punning proper names to the encyclopedic survey of French gastronomy and the capture of French dialect speech. Frank Wynne, the prize-winning Irish translator, proves himself more than equal to the task and ensures that, for English-readers, the invitation to the banquet leaves us hungry for more.’
Michael Cronin, Irish Times

‘Recklessly, omnisciently, dazzlingly, Mathias Enard over the last twenty years has been inventing one of the most visionary oeuvres in French literature. In this book, by excavating a remote rural corner and inhabiting in turn every living thing there, man, woman and beast, he gives us the gift of deep verticality, where a sentence spools into other sentences, other stories, other epochs, and resolves into a history of Europe.’
— Jeet Thayil, author of Names of the Women

‘Mathias Enard is one of the best contemporary French writers, and his works – ambitious, erudite, multifaceted, surprising and unconventional – are always worth reading, because they always strike a perfect balance between the best that literature can offer: pleasure and knowledge.’
— Javier Cercas, author of The Impostor

‘Every novel by Mathias Enard reminds me of the reasons why I read fiction. He is ambitious, erudite, full of life, and a wonderful stylist to boot. He is one of the great novelists of our time.’
— Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of The Shape of the Ruins

‘Mathias Enard is an immensely ambitious writer…. Fortunately, his ambition is matched by an equally extraordinary talent. His elegant prose … is admirably precise and intellectually limpid – he makes no concessions.’
— Alberto Manguel, El País

‘All of Enard’s books share the hope of transposing prose into the empyrean of pure sound, where words can never correspond to stable meanings. He’s the composer of a discomposing age.’ 
— Joshua Cohen, New York Times 

‘A novelist like Enard feels particularly necessary right now, though to say this may actually be to undersell his work. He is not a polemicist but an artist, one whose novels will always have something to say to us.’ 
— Christopher Beha, Harper’s

‘The most brazenly lapel-grabbing French writer since Michel Houellebecq.’ 
— Leo Robson, New Statesman 

‘Rarely has a book about death been so joyful…. With The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild, Mathias Enard offers up both the most excessive and the most consolatory novel written in a long time.’
— Florence Buchy, Le Monde

‘Although his focus here is on the Poitevin marshes, Mathias Enard remains above all an explorer who is peerless in his ability to join together places, cultures and epochs, always returning to love, to death and to what they can generate together.’
— Baptiste Liger, Lire

‘A baroque, Rabelaisian tale…. Mathias Enard’s pen and unbridled imagination lead the saraband, the bacchanalia, until we’ve had our fill.’
— Thierry Clermont, Le Figaro

‘A wonderfully unclassifiable novel. Contemporary, historical, comical, truculent, poetic, with elements of the diary, the fable, the short story … The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild is shot through with Mathias Enard’s deep love of literature.’
— Muriel Mingaud, Centre France

‘This is a book that elicits a visceral response from the reader.’
Josh Zajdman, Washington Post

Mathias Enard, born in 1972, studied Persian and Arabic and spent long periods in the Middle East. He won several awards for Zone, including the Prix du Livre Inter and the Prix Décembre, and won the Liste Goncourt/Le Choix de l’Orient, the Prix littéraire de la Porte Dorée and the Prix du Roman-News for Street of Thieves. He won the 2015 Prix Goncourt, the 2017 Leipziger Book Award for European Understanding, the Premio Gregor von Rezzori and was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for CompassThe Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild is his fifth novel to appear with Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Frank Wynne has translated works by authors including Michel Houellebecq, Patrick Modiano, Virginie Despentes and Jean-Baptiste Del Amo. His work has earned many awards, including the IMPAC Prize, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and the Premio Valle Inclán.