PARIS — Frederic Beigbeder is one of those creatures particular to France: the celebrity intellectual. Turn on the TV and you can’t escape the author-cum-literary pundit extemporizing on every subject imaginable. Open any celebrity magazine and you can’t miss him cavorting with the jet set in Saint Tropez or boozing it up with the Left Bank intelligentsia. Beigbeder paints himself as a dandy with a proclivity for designer clothes, but the 38-year-old former advertising guru also ran the most recent presidential campaign for France’s communist candidate, Robert Hue.
With the publication of his latest novel, “Windows on the World” (Grasset), a rumination on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that just won the prestigious Interallie literary prize here, Beigbeder says he’s ready to start a new chapter.
This story first appeared in the November 20, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I’ve had it with celebrity,” he says over an Irish whiskey in his office at Flammarion, where he was recently brought in as editorial director to revitalize the publishing house’s list of authors. “I’m ready to become a J.D. Salinger. I dream of becoming a hermit.”
He might have to wait awhile before his wish comes true. “Windows on the World” has shot to the top of the best-seller list here, garnering strong reviews, and it’s on the short list for France’s top literary award, the Prix Goncourt. Meanwhile, Beigbeder’s agenda is crammed with interviews, appointments and book signings for months.
In “Windows on the World,” Carthew Yorston, a divorced real estate agent from Texas, takes his two young sons for breakfast at Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 107th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. When the first plane hits, he tries to convince his sons that the attack is a game. The short chapters are devoted to every minute between 8:30 and 10:29 as Yorston reflects on the vagaries of life, love and happiness.
Beigbeder wrote the book in the Ciel de Paris restaurant on the 56th floor of the Tour Montparnasse, the tallest building in Paris, and, while it is clearly fiction, “Windows on the World” also dissects France’s rampant anti-Americanism and tries to construct a paradigm for the post-Sept. 11 world.
“Before the towers fell, people thought the most important thing in the world was to look like a Gucci ad,” says Beigbeder. “Those dreams seem vain now. People have fallen back on concepts like love and solidarity. They seem to aspire to something beyond screwing the latest top model.”
Beigbeder says that the terrorist attacks exposed cracks in the capitalist model. “We’ve perceived that the system is vulnerable and fragile,” he goes on. “This idea of never-ending luxury and glamour had its weaknesses. The ultimate dream could become the ultimate nightmare.”
But Beigbeder is careful to explain that left-leaning views don’t make him anti-American. “I’ve been shocked by what people here say about America recently,” he says. “I think it’s just envy and jealousy.”
“The French are afraid of American political and cultural colonization,” he continues. “But no one forces the French to go to American movies or listen to American music. They go because the French alternative is such a bore.”