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Novel of youth and disillusion wins France's Goncourt prize

Nicolas Mathieu at the Drouant restaurant after receiving the Prix Goncourt
Nicolas Mathieu at the Drouant restaurant after receiving the Prix Goncourt REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

A book described by its author as an “educational novel about disillusionment” set in a drab industrial town has won France’s prestigious Goncourt book prize this year.

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Nicolas Mathieu has won for only his second novel, Leurs enfants après eux (Their Children after Them).

Mathieu, a former journalist, said on Tuesday he was “thrilled” to have won the award.

The 40-year-old author said he spent "18 months locked in a room" to write the book, described as an “educational novel about disillusionment”.

It is a coming-of-age story that focuses on a group of adolescents in a fictional town in eastern France in the early 1990s.

Set over four summers, the novel follows the friends as they dream of escaping a dreary industrial town where the blast furnaces have fallen silent.

Their parents fare no better - one of their fathers ihas been laid off from his idustrial job and scrapes by on work as a gardener while bitterly drinking his sorrows away.

"I wanted to tell the story of the world I come from," Mathieu explained.

His first novel Aux animaux la guerre (Animals at War) also deals with the impact of globalisation in a declining French town,

The Prix Goncourt is worth only a symbolic 10 euros but it guarantees huge sales and unbeatable publicity for the winning author.

Theb40,000-run of Mathieu's novel has sold out but the publisher says 50,000 more will now be printed.

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