Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

It’s a terrible thing to compare one Holocaust story with another…. But it’s kind of what we do when we read about a topic that interests us, isn’t it? Continue reading

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The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras’s The Lover is the second book I’ve read in as many weeks that’s a memoir, thinly disguised as a novel (the other being by Lily Brett).

The story is set in Saigon in the 1930s, and describes the tumultuous affair between a relatively poor adolescent French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. Interspersed between details of their clandestine meetings are descriptions of the unnamed narrator’s mother – headmistress of a girls’ high school and prone to bouts of depression, and her wayward brothers. Continue reading

The Son by Michel Rostain

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We’ve never had a child, we have them forever. (Marina Tsvetaïeva)

Who can judge a father’s memoir, a story of losing an only child to meningitis? No one. And I’m almost reluctant to write a review of any sort.

Despite the blurb that it is not a a book about death, but that it’s a book about life, Michel Rostain’s story, The Son, is devastatingly sad. The shocking and sudden circumstances in which his 21 year old son, Lion, died – feeling unwell for a few days, a fever, then death – are raw, chaotic and incomprehensible. Continue reading

‘The Gourmet’ by Muriel Barbery

My first question is ‘Why isn’t Muriel Barbery herself a food critic?’ – her descriptions of food in The Gourmet are exquisite.

As the world’s most celebrated food critic, Pierre Arthens, lays dying in his plush Parisian apartment (the same apartment building of The Elegance of the Hedgehog fame), his mind turns to key culinary moments in his past. Having eaten at the finest restaurants and drunk the best wines, Pierre is desperate to recall the most delicious food ever to pass his lips. All he wants is one last taste.

“How ironic! After decades of grub, deluges of wine and alcohol of every sort, after a life spent in butter, cream, rich sauces, and oil in constant, knowingly orchestrated and meticulously cajoled excess, my trustiest right-hand men, Sir Liver and his associate Stomach, are doing marvelously well and it is my heart that is giving out. I am dying of cardiac insufficiency. What a bitter pill to swallow.”

“I’m going to die and there is a flavour that has been teasing my taste buds and my heart and I simply cannot recall it. I know that this particular flavour is the first and ultimate truth of my entire life, and that it holds the key to a heart that I have since silenced… and original, marvellous dish that predates my vocation as a critic, before I had any desire or pretension to expound on my pleasure in eating.” Continue reading

‘Someone I Loved’ by Anna Gavalda

It’s just a wisp of a book but an odd wisp at that.

Someone I Loved by French author, Anna Gavalda, is the story of Chloé, whose husband suddenly leaves her and their two daughters for another woman. Unexpectedly, her usually cold and distant father-in-law, Pierre, comes to her aid, sharing what he has learned about life and love.

Interestingly, the book is subtitled ‘A Novel’. Hmmm – that made me wonder. Did the publishers add that because at just short of 160 pages, it’s straying into ‘novella’ territory – what are the official guidelines, anyway? Or did they add ‘A Novel’ because everyone in Gavalda’s home country knows all about her private life and assumes that she has written all about herself. I couldn’t help myself – took a quick peek at Google. Seems my thoughts were not far off the mark. The book was written after Gavalda’s marriage failed and the publication of Someone I Loved in 2002 was followed by the 600 page doorstop, Hunting and Gathering in 2004 – take that, anyone who mentioned ‘lightweight’! Continue reading

‘Delicacy’ by David Foenkinos

Wow. I just loved this book from the very first page.

Delicacy by David Foenkinos took France by storm when it was published in 2009 and has since been made into a film (starring French darling, Audrey Tautou).

Delicacy is an unlikely love story. It begins with François, approaching a beautiful stranger (Natalie) on the street. He asks her out for coffee. She agrees and so begins their deep and blissful romance.

“Why had he stopped her? It had mostly to do with the way she walked. He’d sensed something new, almost childlike, like a rhapsody of kneecaps.”

But don’t get too comfortable – François is knocked over by a car and killed while out on a Sunday morning jog (that’s not a spoiler – it happens early in the book). Continue reading