December 23, 2007 / 3:00 PM / 11 years ago

French hermit and surreal writer Gracq dies age 97

PARIS (Reuters) - Julien Gracq, a reclusive French writer known for surrealism and who famously turned down France’s highest literary award, died at age 97 on Saturday.

Gracq, considered one of France’s greatest writers of the 20th century, spent most of his life in retreat in the small village in western France where he was born.

Novelist, poet, drama author and critic, his literary debut came with ‘At Argol’s Castle’, which sold only 150 copies and which he published in 1938 at his own costs.

Fiercely private, he stunned France for declining the Goncourt prize in 1951 for his masterpiece novel “The Opposite Shore” (‘Rivage des Syrtes’) — a tale about collective suicide in an imaginary landscape.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Sunday that with Gracq’s death “we lose a discreet man, an independent mind, a leading figure of contemporary French literature.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy called Gracq, author of 18 works, one the foremost French writers of the 20th century

Gracq, whose real real name was Louis Poirier, was born on July 27 in Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, on the banks of the Loire river in the west of France.

He spent much of his life there in the house of his grand father and died in a hospital in Angers. He had been living alone since his sister died in 1996.

Gracq, a school teacher, was a rare writer to be published in the prestigious ‘Pleiade’ series while he was still alive.

“The work of Julien Gracq is haughty but Louis Poirier is humble,” said Jerome Garcin, one of the few people to have obtained an interview with Poirier in Saint-Florent.

Reporting by Marcel Michelson; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia

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