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French publisher pulls books by writer accused of underage rape
This file photo taken on July 12, 1990, shows French writer Gabriel Matzneff posing in the garden of the "House of Writers" (Maison des Ecrivains) in Paris, as they attend the first anniversary of the Chinese House of Democracy (Maison Chinoise de la Democratie). The new head of the Juillard publishing house Vanessa Springora releases an autobiographical book on January 2, 2020, entitled "Le Consentement" (The Consent), in which she describes being seduced at 14-years-old by the nearly 50-year-old writer, whom she calls G., in the mid-1980s. Pierre GUILLAUD / AFP.

by Fiachra Gibbons and Aurélie Mayembo

PARIS (AFP).- French publisher Gallimard said on Tuesday it was halting the sale of books by a writer accused of raping children.

France's most prestigious publishing house told AFP it was the first time in its 140-year history that it had taken such a radical step.

Award-winning essayist Gabriel Matzneff is under investigation after a leading French editor detailed in print how he abused her when she was 14.

Gallimard said they would recall all the works the 83-year-old had written under its imprint since 1990.

The last, "The Lover at the Arsenal", came out in November.

The author dismissed Gallimard's move saying it would "calm the excited ones" and denounced a "wave of neo-puritanism".

"I find it stupid, extravagant that in 2020 I am facing grief for books I wrote more than 40 years ago," he said.

Amazon has also reportedly withdrawn the Kindle version of one Matzneff's most notorious works "Les Moins de Seize Ans" ("The Under 16s") after sales rocketed online.

French Culture Minister Franck Riester has waded into the debate this week, saying the writer should lose his special state pension.

Riester told reporters Matzneff could also be stripped of his two major state honours as officer of Arts and Letters and knight of the Order of National Merit.

The weekly magazine Le Point has also dropped him as a columnist.

Explicit accounts
Matzneff has never made any secret of his sexual preference for adolescent girls and boys and it did not stop him winning the Renaudot prize in 2013.

In "Les Moins de Seize Ans", which was published in 1974 and reissued in 2005, he was frank about indulging his obsession for underage partners and sex tourism.

He was even more explicit in his 1990 book "Mes Amours Decomposes" (My Loves Deconstructed), which describes sexual relationships with teenagers aged between 14 and 16 -- it is illegal in France for an adult to have sex with anyone under 15.

He told French television at the time that he preferred "to have people in my life who are not hardened and who are still kind".

"A very young girl is rather sweeter, even if she becomes very quickly hysterical and just as crazy as she will be when she is older," he added.

The case has again shone a light on what many see as an overly permissive attitude towards sexual harassment and sexual abuse of children in France.

'Exceptional measure'
The French film establishment has been rocked by rape accusations against directors Roman Polanski and Luc Besson, while star Adele Haenel said she was sexually harassed by the director of her first film when she was 12.

All three men deny the claims.

Police opened a formal investigation into Matzneff last week after publisher Vanessa Springora described her tortured relationship with the writer in a book titled "Consent".

In it she described how Matzneff, then in his fifties, would wait for her outside school and then take her to his home for sex.

"At 14 you are not supposed to be picked up from school by a man of 50 and find yourself in his bed with his penis in your mouth (instead of a biscuit) at teatime," Springora wrote.

Matzneff denies any wrongdoing, insisting there was an "exceptional love" between him and Springora.

He claimed she tried to portray him as "a pervert, a manipulator and a predator".

Springora said in a television interview on Tuesday that she was freed of Matzneff only after reading his books detailing his sexual escapades in Asia.

Gallimard said it felt impelled to act after Springora's book was published.

"The exceptional measure which we have taken is justified to make sure the suffering that Vanessa Springora recounts" in her book is heard, it added in a statement.

© Agence France-Presse

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