Thursday, April 17, 2008


On 4 April the Vintage arm of Random House launched a novel, Caging
by United States born writer Christine Leunen. Publicity
claims this a new work - first published 2008 [1]:

In a two page article in New Zealand Listener Arts and Books section,
April 19-25,
previewer David Cohen and his subs make the following
claims -

(2) the author Christine Leunen has come from Paris to Palmerston North:
(3) she is a model-turned-novelist:
(4) she is our [i.e. New Zealand's] :
(5) unlikeliest:
(6) new writer.

I have no view on Ms Leunen or the content of her work of which I
have no direct knowledge. I do have a opinion on the above claims.

[1] Caging Skies is not a new work. It is admitted that an 'earlier
version' was published in Spanish, Catalan, Italian and French. In
French it was entitled Le Ceil En Cage and was apparently nominated
for Prix Medicis and Prix FNAC.
The 'earlier version' in Romance language editions is listed as
approximately 443 pages as distinct from the Vintage edition listed
as 404 pages: that is almost to the page the differential between
Francophone and Anglophone editions of a standard work. It is not a
new work.

[2] I don't believe Ms Leunen came from Paris. Certainly that would
be romantic. It is more likely she came to NZ from either North
America or from the city and region where she and her husband bred
horses - Caen, Basse Normandy, France. Publicity, so far, does not
indicate why Ms Leunen and her family decamped to the Manawatu.

[3] No, Ms Leunen did not simply graduate from fashion model to
author. She has a strong academic background. This includes multiple
awards for her Master of Liberal Arts thesis (Harvard University
Extension School, 2005). Enrolled under her married name, Christine
Donata de Maupeou, the subject of her thesis - "Henry James and the
French Aristocracy under the Napoleonic Code: Madame de Vionnet and
a Contextual Reading of The Ambassadors. " Before writing her first
novel (published 1999) she wrote stage plays and a screenplay.
Although Ms Leunen has until recently done occasional fashion photo
shoots her main (approximately four year contract) as a 'commercial
face' dates back about 16 years.

(4) CL cannot by any measurement be described as a NZ writer. She's
been living in NZ for months rather than years and her published work
does not suggest that she has been attracted to NZ environment,
themes, characters etc.. Nor of course should she be! The setting for
CL's first novel, Primordial Soup, is Florida. Caging Skies is set
in Vienna, circa 1930s-40s. Her third novel, first draft 2005,
tentatively titled A Can of Sunshine, takes place in Florida in the

(5) Hardly 'unlikely' in any sense given CL's track record.

(6) Fairly obvious that it is absurd to claim that Ms Christine
Leunen is a new writer.

Readers may also note Vintage's position statement that they are
generally only interested in books with NZ content and NZ authors.
Michael Noonan


David Cohen said...

Well, the fellow who wrote this has used a great many words to say very little.

1) The article wasn’t a preview but an interview.

2) Nowhere in the article is Christine Leunens ID’d as French. She is American born.

3) The piece makes it clear that the new book is a new edition of an existing work, albeit a new version on account of it being an English translation.

4) My understanding--correct me if I'm wrong--is that the author came to NZ by way of France, where she lived with her husband during and after completing her master’s degree at Harvard.

5) The article mentions her existing degrees, and the one she’s currently working on. But the transition from model to author is, again, the author's description of her own career trend. (She still does some modelling, by the way.)

6) The author says that she is here in NZ to live for good—ergo, she is now a “New Zealand writer.’ Let's not be prissy now.

David Cohen said...

Oh, and lest we forget:

Christine Leunens is described as a "new" writer only in relation to the fact that she is new to New Zealand. And the only "unlikely" aspect to this is a background that, by local standards, is unexampled.

Anonymous said...

Usually a good blog but this popgun attack on the Leunen story is odd... so she's exotic, talented and beautiful - you might just have to get used to it. I know I can...

Michael Noonan said...

Good, good, keep the insults coming ... especially anonymous ones!
The guts of my response was - Christine Leunens is an intellectual
and an internationally established author ... don't downsize her by
focusing on her modeling career and don't make the ridiculous claim
that simply by residing in NZ one is automatically a New Zealand writer.
Michael Noonan

David Cohen said...

Well, since you specifically asked for an insult, here's just one: You're starting to sound like an idiot. The other points were specific responses only. (I don't post anonymously.)

Nice to see you're spelling her surname correctly too!

Anonymous said...

Yep - kind of undermines that pile of petty drivel when Noonan fails to get her surname right...
Also, why is BB hosting such a blathering fool on this blog?