Russel Williams

I’ve been in Paris since late 2009 and taught in the French university system before joining AUP. I’m a native of Cardiff, Wales and arrived in France after a decade in London. At present, I’m in the final stages of writing a PhD thesis that explores contemporary French fiction, specifically the poetry and novels of Michel Houellebecq. He is without doubt the most successful contemporary French literary export since Camus, but the critical appreciation of his work has frequently been overshadowed by discussions of the provocative (racist/sexist/eugenic) ideas it presents, or media considerations of the man and his lifestyle. Everyone you meet in France has an opinion about Houellebecq and his novels, but most people aren’t aware he started off writing bleak but beautiful poetry. My work focuses on establishing his literary style in an approach that considers the relationship between his poetry and his prose.

I’m also interested in contemporary French fiction more broadly, including the work of Frédéric Beigbeder, Sabri Louatah and Philippe Djian, to name just three authors. I’m equally fascinated by how writing in French resonates with the contemporary novel in English. The work of Bret Easton Ellis and J.G Ballard, for example, can be read in terms of their dialogue with writers as diverse as Houellebecq, the surrealists and Guy Debord. Ellis’ American Psycho (2001) has inspired the work of a whole generation of French writers, a sphere of influence I’m in the process of mapping. As an extension of this, I’m also engaged with contemporary French film as well as the Franco-American novel from the perspective of genre: how the roman policiers of the 1980s and 1990s rework the typically American detective story with a contemporary French, and often anti-American, experience. I recently co-edited a volume of essays on the relationship between writing and extremity, Autour de l’extrême littéraire (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2012) [link: http://www.c-s-p.org/flyers/Autour-de-l-Extreme-Litteraire1-4438-4163-3.htm%5D, and I’m preparing a follow-up volume on the theme of ‘intoxication’. My literary journalism also regularly appears in publications as diverse as the Times Literary Supplement, the Independent on Sunday, French Studies and my website.

Prior to starting my research into literature, and after completing my MA at the University of Manchester, I worked in the public relations industry between 2001 and 2009 developing, managing and implementing creative communication campaigns for global consumer brands such as Burger King, General Motors and JPMorgan. These professional experiences inform my teaching, my research and my writing. While writing a press release for a product launch is very different from writing a scholarly article, the common fundamentals are in many ways the same: clarity, readability and the need for a coherent argument. My PR experience has also led me to inquire critically into the relationship between writing and consumerism, another important strand to my research.

When not reading or writing, I’m often to be found at obscure Parisian venues indulging my passion for loud psychedelic and noisy experimental music. I’m also a keen football fan and, most recently, have started, perhaps through osmosis, to acquire a very un-Welsh interest in handball.