The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell, 2009 ($1 million advance)
The $1 million Harper‘s paid for the rights to publish Littell’s first novel in the US should have been a relatively safe bet (as safe as a thousand-page novel can ever be). After all, the book was originally published in France in 2006, where it sold 700,000 copies and won the Prix Goncourt. But then again, the book is sort of difficult. At the Times, Motoko Rich describes it as “a fictionalized memoir of a remorseless former Nazi SS officer, who in addition to taking part in the mass extermination of the Jews, commits incest with his sister, sodomizes himself with a sausage and most likely kills his mother and stepfather.” Michiko Kakutani hated it, and so did a lot of other people — but the book had its champions in the states as well. Still, the book did badly in the US, selling only 17,000 copies of a 150,000 print run in the first four months. Well, the publishers can still use them as paperweights.