Novel that tackles horror of 11 September wins 'Independent' Foreign Fiction Prize

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The French writer Frédéric Beigbeder has won this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for his controversial novel-cum-essay about the attacks of 11 September 2001.

The French writer Frédéric Beigbeder has won this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for his controversial novel-cum-essay about the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Windows on the World, published in Britain by Fourth Estate, was the first serious work of fiction to grapple with the horrors of that day and their emotional and cultural impact. It remains the boldest by far.

Beigbeder, a prolific, celebrated but inflammatory figure in French literature today, shares the £10,000 award with the book's translator, Frank Wynne. The winning author and translator accepted the prize, which is supported by Arts Council England and Champagne Taittinger, at a ceremony last night at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

The novel portrays the final hours of a Texan property dealer and his sons in the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Centre's north tower. Meanwhile, in Paris, a French writer struggles to make sense of the terrible events and their aftermath, treating it as a call to conscience and personal reform.

A recent New York Times article on Beigbeder accused him of being "a hipster nihilist, a publicity hound, a jerk, a self-impressed renegade". However, it then went on to ask "How is it... that he has written so funny and moving a book?" about the most sensitive and taboo moment in recent American history.

New York's journal of record concluded that it was "exhilarating" to hear from "the seasoned nihilist with a track record of success in pursuing the playboy's delights" that "the only thing we deserve to be remembered for is how well and generously we loved". Beigbeder himself thinks: "It's impossible to write about this subject, and yet it is impossible to write about anything else."

His novel mitigates the terror, panic and desperate affirmations of love in the tower with a discursive, satirical view from Paris. He takes aim, above all, at the mindless hedonism of his own generation, a hedonism that collapsed with the towers.

Beigbeder, who has a partly American family background, also excoriates French anti-American prejudice, and glories in the self-renewing vitality of American culture, which is evident in its people, its books, its music and its movies. Thinking of the young who came to maturity around 11 September 2001, Beigbeder asks: "How can they build on the ruins of my generation, the destruction of the Seventies and the failure of the Eighties, the breakdown of the designer-label society? What will they see from their window of the world?" True to form, Beigbeder's book was a fiercely-argued majority choice for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize rather than an easy consensus victor.

The panel also decided to nominate a runner-up: the 24-year-old Russian writer Irina Denezhkina's debut collection of stories, Give Me (Songs for Lovers), translated by Andrew Bromfield for Chatto & Windus.

The judges of this year's prize were the writers Julian Evans and Michèle Roberts, the editor and translator Margaret Obank, the international literature officer of Arts Council England, Kate Griffin, and The Independent's literary editor, Boyd Tonkin.

Shocking agent provocateur at heart of French literary scene

Along with his contemporary Michel Houellebecq, Frédéric Beigbeder has emerged over the past decade as a fearless, shocking but unignorable agent provocateur at the heart of the French literary and media scene.

He was born in 1965 in the plush Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, the son of a corporate headhunter father and a mother who translated romance novels (including Barbara Cartland's). He enjoyed a conventional French elite education at the Louis le Grand lycée and the Sciences-Po faculty in Paris.

However, he then became a club organiser before spending several years in advertising. His work for the Young & Rubicam agency in Paris included poster slogans for Eurostar and Wonderbra ("Look me in the eyes. I said the eyes").

In 2001, an outrageous satirical novel about the ad game, 99 Francs (translated as £9.99), deliberately burnt all his boats with the business.

Yet he briefly went back to his old métier in 2002 to advise the Communist candidate, Robert Hue, in the French presidential election campaign. He even wanted to rename the PCF as the French Humanist Party. A pro-American lover of pop music and Hollywood movies, often dismissive of sacred French traditions, Beigbeder loves to scandalise his staider peers. In 2002, he released a CD of favourite tracks, the soundtrack of his youth: it included Bronski Beat, New Order and Donna Summer.

His nine novels, meanwhile, add up to a high-energy chronicle of confused, trend-crazy urban culture.

He gives a voice to a French generation that has lost its faith in the sterile pieties of official politics and culture, but has yet to find solid ground beneath its feet.

Twice divorced, he has a five-year-old daughter, Chloë, and has recently quit the Left Bank to live in the wealthy but blander VIIe arrondissement of Paris. As for his new novel, it adopts a title once considered by F Scott Fitzgerald: The Romantic Egoist.

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