At 33 years old, Nicolas Cavailles is one of the youngest authors to have won the Goncourt Short Story prize, having received the award for his "The Life of Mr. Leguat" on Saturday in Strasbourg.
The only laureates to have been younger were Sebastien Lapaque, who was 31 years old when he won the prize in 2002, and Oliver Adam, who was 30 years old when selected in 2004.
Born in 1981 in Saint-Jean-sur-Veyle, the same city as his book's protagonist, Leguat, Cavailles studied philosophy and literature, earning a doctorate in literature from Jean Moulin University Lyon 3 for a thesis written on Emil Cioran.
A specialist on the work of the Romanian philosopher, Cavailles co-edited Cioran's French writings for the prestigious Pleiade Library edition (2011), along with Aurelien Demars.
Since 2013, Cavailles has also directed Hochroth-Paris, a small publishing house dedicated to international poetry.
"The Life of Mr. Leguat" is the first book of fiction from Cavailles. At 68 pages and consisting of a single novella-length story, is an unusual selection for the Academie Goncourt, which has previously always awarded the prize since its inauguration in 1974 to books including several short stories by a single author.
The story retells the adventures of Francois Leguat, a little-known historical figure from the 17th century who went into exile at the age of 50, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes forced French Huguenots to convert to Catholicism or flee the country.
Cavailles recounts the voyages that followed Leguat'sdeparture from France, which began in Holland and carried him as far as Mauritius and the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean.
Leguat lived to the age of 96, and after returning to Europe to settle in London, published an account of his adventures. Cavailles reimagines those experiences while introducing philosophical themes, such as the question of free will and our ability to control the paths our lives follow.
Representing the Academie Goncourt at the award ceremony on Sept. 27, Didier Decoin praised Cavailles' book as "a rare literary delight."