A steamy French novel that was dragged through the courts by Scarlett Johansson in a failed attempt to stop it being translated is to be published in the UK within weeks. Grégoire Delacourt’s The First Thing You See was, the author said, supposed to be a “declaration of love” for the Hollywood star, but Johansson failed to see the romantic side and sued.
Publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson is now to release the book translated from its original French in hardback and ebook on 10 September.
Delacourt’s novel follows a young village mechanic in France. His quiet life is disrupted when a woman who appears to be Scarlett Johansson turns up one night on his doorstep. She turns out to be an imposter.
The publisher called the book a “tender love story about two fragile souls trying to love each other”.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, which had legal consultation before releasing the work, did not refer to Johansson by name in the publicity material and emphasised that the character in the book is a lookalike, not the real star.
The novel – La première chose qu’on regarde in French – sparked a furious response from the actress, after it was published in 2013. Mr Delacourt said at the time: “I thought she might send me flowers, as it was a declaration of love for her.” Instead, he received a writ, which left him “speechless”.
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Through her lawyers, Johansson said the novel violated her privacy and constituted a “fraudulent and illicit use of her name, fame and image” for commercial gain. The lawyers added that the novel also made fraudulent claims about her personal life and presented the actress as a sex object. One claim was over two affairs the fictional imposter had, which the lawyers said was defamatory. They sought damages of €50,000 (£37,000) from a Paris court and an injunction to stop it being translated or adapted for cinema.
“It freaks me out to think that when you talk of a character in a novel, judges can get involved. It’s rather sad,” Mr Delacourt said. At the time the lawyer for the French publisher JC Lattés called the allegations “totally scandalous”.
A spokeswoman for the French publisher added: “It is all the more surprising [as] the novel is not even about Scarlett Johansson. It is about ...Scarlet Johansson’s double.”
The Paris court awarded victory to the actress, with damages set at just €2,500 with a further €2,500 in legal costs.
The call for an injunction was thrown out. The publisher cut the four lines about the fictional character’s affairs.
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