‘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
Tag Archives: France
Winner 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
‘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.
‘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
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.
I 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
‘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