Tag Archives: France

Little by Edward Carey

Little Edward Carey‘Little’ by Edward Carey is a fictionalised account of the early life of Madame Tussaud who founded the famous waxwork museum in London that bears her name. Born Anne Marie Grosholtz in 1761 and orphaned as a young child, she is employed by Swiss wax sculptor, Doctor Curtius, who makes anatomical models in his studio and names his young apprentice ‘Little’ on account of her small stature. When Curtius’ financial difficulties finally catch up with him, they move to Paris where they take rooms with widow Charlotte Picot who helps transform the business and set up popular exhibitions displaying wax replicas of the heads of noblemen and famous murderers. She banishes Marie to work in the kitchen out of jealousy but following a surprise visit by Princess Elisabeth, the youngest sister of King Louis XVI, Marie is invited to become her wax modelling tutor at the Palace of Versailles. However, with revolution on the horizon, nobody associated with the Royal Family is safe from the threat of the guillotine. Continue reading

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Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

Lullaby Leila SlimaniWinner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt and recently translated from the French by Sam Taylor, ‘Lullaby’ by Leïla Slimani has been one of the most talked-about novels so far this year, partly inspired by a real-life case of a nanny who killed two children in New York in 2012. Paul and Myriam live in a fashionable area of north-west Paris with their two young children, Mila and Adam. Paul works in the music business and Myriam is a criminal lawyer of North African descent who hires a nanny, Louise, to look after the children when she decides to resume her career. Initially, Louise appears to be perfect and indispensable to the family, but her behaviour becomes increasingly concerning. Continue reading

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The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The Accident on the A35 Graeme Macrae Burnet‘The Accident on the A35’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet sees the return of Inspector Georges Gorski who featured in The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. His latest case in the sleepy French town of Saint-Louis in Alsace involves the circumstances surrounding a car accident which fatally injures prominent local solicitor Bertrand Barthelme. Although there is no evidence to suggest a crime has been committed, it is soon discovered that Barthelme had repeatedly lied about his whereabouts to his wife Lucette and teenage son Raymond so Gorski agrees to Lucette’s request to look into the circumstances further. Meanwhile Raymond discovers the address of a house in the rue Saint-Fiacre in Mulhouse on a piece of paper in his father’s desk and sets out to conduct his own investigation.

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The Valentine House by Emma Henderson

The Valentine House Emma Henderson‘The Valentine House’ by Emma Henderson is set in the French Alps at Arete, a large chalet built by Sir Anthony Valentine in the late nineteenth century and used as a summer house by the family across several generations. In 1914, Mathilde, a local girl from the valley, is selected by Sir Anthony’s wife Lady Charlotte to work as a servant at Arete on account of her being one of the ‘uglies’ and therefore less likely to catch Sir Anthony’s wandering eye. Mathilde gradually becomes acquainted with the quirks of this strange English family until she is betrayed by Sir Anthony’s granddaughter Daisy. Decades later in 1976, Sir Anthony’s great-great-grandson George is visiting Arete with his cousins, continuing many of the Valentine traditions such as the outdoor physical challenges known as ‘paideia’. With Mathilde’s help, they finally uncover the mystery surrounding the fate of Sir Anthony’s daughter Margaret. Continue reading

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Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan

Based on a True Story Delphine de Vigan

After a break from Man Booker International Prize shadowing duties last month, I have returned to reading translated fiction with ‘Based on a True Story’ by Delphine de Vigan translated from the French by George Miller. It is about a middle-aged Parisian author, Delphine, who is befriended by a woman known throughout only as “L.” who claims to be a professional ghostwriter. L.’s presence gradually takes over every aspect of Delphine’s life to the point where their close friendship turns into something far more sinister.

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The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau Graeme Macrae BurnetI really enjoyed reading His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet after discovering it through the Man Booker Prize shortlist last year. His 2014 debut novel ‘The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau’ which was also published by Contraband tells the story of Manfred Baumann, a loner who lives in the nondescript French town of Saint-Louis in Alsace and frequently dines at a bistro where waitress Adèle Bedeau works. When Adèle suddenly disappears one evening after finishing her shift, Manfred quickly comes under suspicion. However, after giving a false statement to Inspector Georges Gorski in which he fails to admit that he was the last person to see her alive, his life begins to spiral out of control.  Continue reading

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3 French Novellas I Have Read Recently

The End of Eddy Edouard Louis‘The End of Eddy’ by Édouard Louis is a semi-autobiographical novel set in a deprived rural community in Picardy in northern France. Translated by Michael Lucey, it is a coming of age tale about Eddy Bellegueule (the author’s real name) and his life at home and at school in the late 1990s and 2000s. Eddy is gay and struggles to conform to what is widely perceived to be an acceptable type of masculinity in the small village where he is expected to go to work in the factory as soon as he leaves school. His mannerisms are routinely mocked by his peers and his family, particularly his father who even chose Eddy’s name because it sounds American and more “tough guy”. ‘The End of Eddy’ garnered lots of attention in France because Louis published his debut novel in 2014 when he was just 21 years old. However, aside from Louis’s young age and the unflinching descriptions of Eddy exploring his sexuality, ‘The End of Eddy’ also deserves acclaim more generally for articulating the reality of social exclusion in modern-day France so convincingly. Many thanks to Harvill Secker for sending me a review copy via NetGalley. Continue reading

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Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

Life A User's Manual Georges PerecI first came across Georges Perec’s work at university through his first novel ‘Things: A Story of the Sixties’ which was by far the most interesting book I had to read for one of my French literature modules focusing on consumerism. I’ve had ‘Life: A User’s Manual’ on my TBR list ever since which is probably Perec’s best known novel published in 1978 and translated from the French by David Bellos in 1987. Continue reading

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Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre

Blood Wedding Pierre Lemaitre‘Blood Wedding’ by Pierre Lemaitre and translated from the French by Frank Wynne tells the story of Sophie Duguet, a nanny who is becoming increasingly forgetful and paranoid. When the child in her care Leo is found brutally murdered, she has no recollection of what happened and goes on the run fearing that she killed him during one of her frequent blackouts. However, it soon becomes clear that something very sinister has been causing Sophie’s alarming behaviour and changing her identity won’t be the solution to her problems. Continue reading

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The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre

The Great Swindle Pierre LemaitreTranslated from the French by Frank Wynne, ‘The Great Swindle’ is something of a departure for Pierre Lemaitre from his crime fiction series of novels featuring detective Camille Verhoeven. Originally titled ‘Au-revoir là-haut’, it won the Prix Goncourt in 2013 which is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in France. In the final days of the First World War, Lieutenant Henri d’Aulnay-Pradelle secretly shoots two of his own men in the back to make other troops believe they were killed by the enemy and provoke a final attack on the Germans, thus establishing his reputation as a war hero. However, Albert Maillard and Édouard Péricourt have witnessed his crime and are gravely injured when Aulnay-Pradelle attempts to kill them too. After the armistice, Édouard assumes the identity of another dead soldier and embarks on an elaborate money-making scheme with Albert. Continue reading

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The Man in a Hurry by Paul Morand

The Man in a Hurry Paul MorandOriginally published as ‘L’Homme pressé’ in 1941, ‘The Man in a Hurry’ by Paul Morand has recently been translated from the French by Euan Cameron and printed by Pushkin Press. It tells the story of Pierre Niox, a Parisian antiques dealer who is permanently in a rush to get things done. His friends, business partner, valet and even his cat can’t keep up with his frenetic pace of life and gradually abandon him. However, when Pierre falls in love with the laidback and easy-going Hedwige, he is forced to adapt his impulsive behaviour to win her over by learning how to settle down and savour the simple things in life. Continue reading

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Irène and Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

Irene Alex

‘Irène’ and ‘Alex’ are the first two books in Pierre Lemaitre’s series of crime novels set in Paris and featuring Commandant Camille Verhoeven. ‘Irène’ was the first novel in the series originally published in France in 2006 but was the second to be translated into English following the success of  its sequel ‘Alex’ which won the CWA International Dagger for best translated crime novel of the year in 2013.  Continue reading

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The Last Life by Claire Messud

‘The Last Life’ by Claire Messud is a coming-of-age story set in the early 1990s about Sagesse LaBasse, a French-American girl whose family own a hotel in the south of France which was opened by her grandfather after he emigrated from Algeria.  The story follows Sagesse as she explores her multiple identities and comes to terms with the events of the past. Continue reading

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Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

I won a copy of ‘Paris’ by Edward Rutherfurd through Waterstones who offer free copies of recently published books to cardholders through a prize draw in return for an honest review.  I’m not sure if I’m allowed to copy my official review in full on my blog so you can read it here instead (not sure why my name hasn’t appeared next to it yet but it’s the 3 star review by the anonymous 23-year-old under the customer reviews tab). Continue reading

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The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

Set in France during the mid-1980s, ‘The President’s Hat’ by Antoine Laurain tells the story of, well, François Mitterrand’s black felt hat.  After the French president accidentally leaves it behind in a brasserie, Daniel Mercier takes the hat on impulse and finds that wearing it brings him a great amount of luck.  However, it soon ends up in the hands of a range of other characters… and so begins the eventful journey of the president’s hat which somehow changes the lives of all those who briefly possess it.  Continue reading

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The Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet

The Devil in the Flesh‘The Devil in the Flesh’ by Raymond Radiguet tells the semi-autobiographical story of an unnamed narrator who begins a tumultuous love affair at the age of 16 with Marthe, a 19 year old married woman whose husband is away fighting at the front during the First World War.  The affair is soon discovered by their families and friends.  Naturally, tragedy ensues. Continue reading

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The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

I have got really, really behind with writing up my reviews and I am doing my best to catch up this week before Christmas!  I actually read ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McClain about three weeks ago.  It is a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson told from her point of view after a whirlwind romance and their life together in the 1920s before he found worldwide fame as a writer. Continue reading

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Perfume by Patrick Suskind

‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ by Patrick Suskind tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who has no natural odour himself but possesses an unnaturally heightened sense of smell.  Abandoned as a child in eighteenth-century Paris, he eventually becomes an apprentice at a parfumerie thanks to his talent for distinguishing between the subtlest collection of odours and creating the most exquisite perfumes.  However, his quest for the perfect scent soon leads him down a murderous path. Continue reading

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French Bookshops

French Books

Here’s one way of preventing Amazon’s hegemony over book sales: in France, book prices are fixed by law so they cost the same amount whether you buy them online, in a chain shop like Fnac or in a small independent bookshop.  When I was living in Paris during my year abroad, the stingy student side of me was a bit miffed that it was impossible to get new books at a discount.  On the other hand, it means that there are still a lot of independent bookshops which are managing to stay open (about 400 in Paris) and that can only be a good thing. Continue reading

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Au Revoir Sarko…?

The Sarkozy chapter in the history of the Fifth Republic is likely to be one that the French will want to skip over in a hurry, pretending that it never really happened.  The hyperactive President Bling-Bling might one day make a good subject for a film biopic but for now, it seems that France wants to move on with François Hollande leading in the polls after Sunday’s first round of the presidential election.  His quiet ambition stands in great contrast with the dynamic, some say erratic, style of Nicolas Sarkozy which lost its appeal very quickly after he took office in 2007. Continue reading

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