Nicolas Bouyssi


One fine day a solar system which is no longer in motion was formed – no longer because its motion is settled. In order for it to go into motion again, there’s a need for something that demolishes. This is the reason why man was invented.

– R. W. Fassbinder

With this fifth novel, Nicolas Bouyssi seems rapidly to be becoming one of France’s most interesting contemporary writers. His first novel, Le Gris, was published by Editions P.O.L. in 2007. Since then three more novels have followed, including En plein vent, Compression and Les Algues. A regular contributor to the bimonthly contemporary art magazine Journal Particules, Bouyssi is also the author of a handful of short stories. His short story Quelque chose monte (Something in the Air) is published in English on the Pompidou Centre’s online forum Airs de Paris.

Bouyssi was born in 1972 in a small town in western France and has been living in Paris for fifteen years, working as a French teacher since his mid-twenties. He puts his life into his work – such as his experience teaching inner city children – but also his fondness for the roman noir (especially by far-left thinker Manchette) which he mixes with futurist settings that give his stories their disquieting, intriguing quality. The dystopian world he invents reeks of today, but streaks of very dry humour inject the text with vitality, while a certain childlike simplicity and beauty in his descriptions redeem them from gloominess. His fiction revolves around the outsider, the maladjusted man. But Bouyssi’s anti-hero refuses to return to the norm in his effort to stay true to himself.

Featured reading group title

S’autodétruire et les enfants (Self-destruction and Children)

an illustration of S'autodétruire et les enfants jacket

A first-person narration, S’autodétruire et les enfants is an account of the increasingly hellish everyday life of the narrator’s family before his birth. It would belong to the popular French genre of ‘autofiction’ were the story not set in a future period one might imagine as less than fifty years away: a time of gigantic urban developments, security precautions everywhere and precarious jobs for the working and lower-middle classes. Although the depressive alcoholic father is the central character, Bouyssi juggles adroitly between points of view, keeping the reader guessing. Because of the social paradigm, the description of the family cell’s disintegration has the quality of a rigorously logical demonstration. Without sensationalism, the author exposes the facets of his characters’ alienation, which leads them to shocking actions.

More information

  • Nicolas Bouyssi is one of the four authors discussed at the And Other Stories’ 2011 French Reading Group.
  • Emily Barnett’s review ‘Algues toxiques’ (Toxic Seaweed) in music and culture magazine Les Inrockuptible, 24 March 2010.
  • Raphaelle Leyris reviews S’autodétruire ou les enfants in Le dernier sursaut du zombie (The zombie’s final start)’ Le Monde des Livres, 7 April 2011.
  • [download id=”36″ format=”1″] translated by Clare Horackova.
  • If you’ve read the book or the translated extracts, let us know what you think by commenting below.


  1. Lesley lawn says:

    This is a profoundly moving story although it makes very uncomfortable reading. There is a feel of constant menace which makes one feel something awful is about to happen, adding unbearable suspense to this almost robotic narrative of everyday life. As well as giving us glimpse of 21st century urban hell, Bouyssi shows huge insight into the pschology of depression and the long-term unemployed as well as the dynamics of an abusive relationship. The sense of alienation is further compounded by the futuristic setting. I thought it was going to be unrelenting misery but Bouyssi turns it around just in time, giving a ray of hope in what seemed to be a most desperate life. Cleverly written.

  2. Clare Horackova says:

    The choice of an extract for translation was particularly difficult because each individual detail or episode relies on the cumulative effect of this novel as a whole for its full significance. For example, the child’s drawing of a typical family house is poignant in the context of the impersonal, futuristic block of flats that this family are condemned to lead their miserable, isolated lives in, highlighting the lack of love and comfort. There is a gradual build-up of waves of increasing despair, from which there appears to be no escape. As a reader I was powerfully drawn into this enclosed world.
    I found that the real horror of this story lies in its un-extraordinariness: this is a world that anyone could find themselves stuck in.


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