the door of The taxi opens. The foot barely on the ground, he’s surrounded by a horde of poles, cameras and microphones. Nicolas Mathieu has won the prix Goncourt 2018 for his second novel The children after them (Actes Sud). He succeeds Eric Vuillard for The order of the day (Actes Sud). Nicolas Mathieu seems not to believe it. Just smile, it winds its way to the inside of the restaurant Drouant, located near the Paris Opera. “I am happy, quite amazed and taken with a strange dizziness, he says a few minutes after his coronation. This is the beginning of a new life that begins even if my job is not to win prizes but to write.” All was not yet written. Nicolas Mathieu was not the figure of a favorite among literary critics.

Twenty minutes earlier, Virginie Despentes, cigarette in hand, leans to the window of the establishment and plays

Virginie Despentes, and Bernard Pivot, at the restaurant Drouant in Paris. GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS

still a mystery. “Then? Who is it?”, shouts to him there. The member of the jury Goncourt smiles and taunts the impatient. Bernard Pivot joins soon, love to see a public, if revolting. On the ground floor, some make their predictions and are reluctant. “It is difficult this year. There are very good books, including Diop,” comments a reader, always at the rendez-vous of the past six years. But at 12.45 pm, as promised, the wait is over.

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“This is the last manifestation of a France that disappears,”

The juror Goncourt, Didier Decoin, costume charcoal gray and blue shirt, comes down the steps to the restaurant to meet with journalists. At the announcement of the name of Nicolas Mathieu, the crowd lets out an “Ah” satisfied. We even heard a “bravo!” in the distance. It is followed by the Renaudot literary prize awarded to Valerie Coat for Sulcus (The Tripod). She succeeds Olivier Guez for The disappearance of Josef Mengele (Grasset). The jurors also awarded a “special award” to Philip, Lance, for Flap (Gallimard), who has already won the prix Femina.

now at lunch. On the menu: smoked haddock and caviar, fine jelly cake, which is a queue of soil, roe deer Noisette and pan seared foie gras, brie de Meaux with truffles. Finally, for dessert, Pears Belle-Hélène. It is this moment that the two juries choose to express themselves on their choice of winner. I barely have the time to taste their entry. Journalists come in waves. To each his own. The rest of the cameras must wait patiently on the ground-floor, in the company of those that are called “swallows”, the usual picnic plate.

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Each rejoices in his own way the new prix Goncourt. Virginie Despentes points out the writing of Nicolas Mathieu, “his chronicle of social painted a France that is not talked about. It is very Zola, nothing is overrated. I think it is the latest manifestation of a France that disappears”. Pierre Assouline, for its part, acknowledges a “contemporary history”, which responds to “the very current issues”. It regrets, however, that Diop, author of soul Brother (Threshold), has not been distinguished. For his part, Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt evokes a “novel sensual with a real writing. It translates with accuracy the teen and his wrath.” He expressed the hope that “the mark Goncourt will allow him to be brought abroad”.

“The book of Valérie Coat is a very pretty choice which goes first to the youth”

While Nicolas Mathieu arrives in a flood of praise, Paule Constant, do not prevents to recall his preference for Paul Greveillac and his novel Masters and slaves (Gallimard), . She believes, however, “satisfied”, and recognises the work of a writer. “ After their children speaks of the despair, of the French provinces that industrialization was abandoned. Emmanuel Macron should read the novel by Nicolas Mathieu, who is currently the territories hurt by the war and unemployment.”

The side Renaudot, the jury is equally enthusiastic. But Valerie Mantle, which was included in the last list of the price, will not be part of the lunch. It is in Marseille. It is all the same to greet the author and his book Sulcus (The Tripod). “It is a very pretty choice which goes first to the youth,” says the academician and a member of the prix Renaudot, Dominique Bona. “This is his second book but first novel. The writing is very appreciated by the jury. With this journey that it offers us to Istanbul, she reaches out with a tone of naive, that his character to make us hear the beauty and the cruelty of this city.” And to clarify: “We wanted to distinguish between a pretty and write at the same time, thanks to this award, to discover a new author.”

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The side Goncourt, also congratulated the winner. Virginie Despentes is one of his first admirers. “Valerie Coat has a write completely sincere to which I adhere immediately. I love his way of painting the Turkey. She tells the story with this book what might happen in the France of tomorrow. That is to say, an autocratic power, the violence in the street. She describes it very well. We can all become targets.”

With this new award, the Academy Goncourt distinguishes once more Actes Sud. Jérôme Ferrari in 2012, Mathias Enard in 2015, Eric Vuillard in 2017 and now Nicolas Mathieu. As to the editions of the Tripod, this is the first time one of their authors will be awarded the Renaudot literary prize.

Nicolas Mathieu, the prix Goncourt 2018 with “Their children after them” – to Look on Figaro Live