French fiction

All posts tagged French fiction

Lullaby – Leïla Slimani, Sam Taylor (Translator)

Published October 22, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect caretaker for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint and is able to host enviable birthday parties.

The couple and nanny become more dependent on each other. But as jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul’s idyllic tableau is shattered…

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads for loaning me her copy of Lullaby (also published as The Perfect Nanny) to read after she had finished it. This is another one of those books that has been everywhere with mostly rave reviews and when it was picked for The Richard And Judy Late Summer Reads book club here in the UK, I knew I had to finally give it a shot. Lullaby is a work of translated fiction which is also another bonus for me as I’m trying to expand my horizons and read more translated work, and was originally published as Chanson douce in French back in 2016, winning the Prix Goncourt. By the time I finished this book, I was kicking myself for not having picked it up sooner. This was a remarkably short but powerful piece of fiction at just over 250 pages and I fair flew through the pages in less than 24 hours.

 Leïla Slimani, author of Lullaby.

It’s no spoiler to say that Lullaby has one of the most astounding opening lines I’ve ever come across in a novel:

“The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds.”

Already, the reader is fully aware that this story is NOT going to end well but the sheer might of this opening line propels us into a narrative that explores exactly how our characters get to this life-altering point and what could have potentially precipitated such a heinous act. It’s the story of an ambitious couple, Myriam and Paul and the nanny that they employ, Louise to look after their two young children whilst they spend more and more of their waking hours at work, building a life for their family. It follows a woman whom when we first meet her is already teetering on the brink of a precipice emotionally and financially and how events in her past and present collide together to push her off the edge of that cliff into complete turmoil. Could these events have been predicted? If the couple had spent more time with their children and not left so much of the responsibility and parenting to Louise would things have been different? Possibly, possibly not. This is a fascinating insight into a troubled individual with devastating and heart-breaking consequences for all parties concerned.

The Perfect Nanny? Julie Andrews as the inimitable Mary Poppins.

As I mentioned before, this is an incredibly short, engrossing novel that it took me no time at all to whizz through and I was completely absorbed every minute I spent reading it. I’m sure that staggering first line must chase away any residual hesitancy you might have as well? It certainly did for me. That was an incredibly savvy ploy by the author/editor to pull a reader into a novel and I can only applaud them for it, it worked a treat and before I experienced the story for myself, it was all anybody could talk about initially online. Lullaby feels quite literary in its execution so don’t be expecting major plot twists and turns, that’s not what this novel is all about. It does everything it needs to do quietly, intelligently and thoughtfully and I can certainly see why it’s been praised so highly. As I reached the “final bow” of the narrative, I have to admit to a slight tinge of disappointment at the ending at first. However, the longer I’ve sat thinking about it, the more I understand that it was pretty perfect the way it was and certainly fits the entire tone of the novel. I really don’t believe this needs any bells, whistles or exciting, unexpected moments – the story runs on a lot deeper level that that and it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 4):

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Savages: The Wedding – Sabri Louatah (Les Sauvages #1)

Published May 23, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A Saturday in May. Paris.

It’s the eve of the French presidential elections – ‘The Election of the Century’ say the newspaper headlines – and Chaouch, the nation’s first Arab candidate, has victory in his sights. It has been a long campaign, and with his wife Esther and daughter Jasmine by his side, he spends the remaining hours with close advisors in a hotel in Nimes. Much of the dinner table chatter revolves around Jasmine’s boyfriend; Fouad Nerrouche, a well-known actor with the same Algerian origins as her father, who has just publicly endorsed Chaouch’s candidacy. However shallow it may seem, it’s difficult to ignore the influence of celebrity support in this complex and unpredictable race . . .

The same day. Saint-Etienne.

The Nerrouche family is frantically preparing for a grand wedding, and Fouad himself is there to help out. But younger cousin Krim – who has recently lost his job – is becoming increasingly agitated, and no one knows why. As the day goes on, it becomes clear that the cousin’s problems go far deeper than unemployment. Krim has been stealing from a local gang leader and after being discovered, found himself indebted to his powerful cousin, Nazir – Fouad’s brother. Nazir is a very shady figure, and is heavily involved in a dark underworld of crime. Together, their plans will cause Fouad’s two very different worlds to meet in a way no one would have dared to imagine. Within a few hours, the threads start to unravel, and the collision between the destiny of a family and the hopes of a country becomes inevitable.

With the pacing of a thriller, Louatah melds the tense atmosphere of a family saga with the gripping suspense of a political drama into one breathtaking read.

What did I think?:

I was really pleased to receive this book through my letterbox from Corsair Publishers in exchange for an honest review, thank you so much to them. I’m a huge thriller/crime fiction fan and love reading books set in different countries so initially I was quite intrigued to get started. Plus, at 256 pages in its paperback form, I knew it wouldn’t take me long to read so I packed it in my hand luggage on my recent holiday to Mexico and read it in its entirety on the plane journey over there. Now I feel like I’ve been writing a few more critical reviews recently and when I realised this was unfortunately, not the book for me, my heart sank a little bit. I would never want to offend an author, after all, they’ve put metaphorical blood, sweat and tears into their work, who am I to be so negative about it? But, there’s times when you just have to realise that each book speaks individually to the reader and what somebody may not get on with, another person is going to love. I feel I have to be honest when I’m given a book to review and I’m in no way saying this is a bad book, not at all. I just personally didn’t connect with the plot or the characters I’m afraid.

Sabri Louatah, the author of The Savages: The Wedding.

The Savages can be described as a family drama and also a political thriller. It follows the Nerrouche family on the day of a wedding, more specifically, a member of the family called Krim who has become embroiled in some shady business with a gang leader and is constantly terrified that his misdeeds will catch up with him. His family are mostly unaware of the huge hole that Krim has got himself into and are becoming increasingly worried for his state of mind as he is in obvious turmoil. Meanwhile, another member of the family, Fouad has recently began a serious relationship with Jasmine, daughter of the first Arab candidate for the French presidential elections. As tensions rise on both sides of the family, the two stories are brought together in a dramatic cliff-hanger of a finale that could change many of our characters lives forever.

St-Etienne, France where part of our story is set.

There is so much more going on in this narrative then what I’ve just mentioned before. In fact, the whole story is very complex and there always seems to be something going on, you could never say the pace is dull. I do enjoy an intricate plot of course, but for some reason this story just felt far too busy for me. There was almost too much going on and at times, I just wanted the author to slow down and get some clarification on a few things which I was confused about. It almost felt like there was a sub-text of hidden things below the surface of the novel that the reader was just expected to understand and perhaps this is my own fault, being quite ignorant of parts of the culture explored in this novel. I don’t necessarily need everything spelled out for me but sometimes, I just felt like this was a party I didn’t have an invite to.

There are occasional great parts of this novel that I do want to highlight. First of all, the pace which I’ve already mentioned. Secondly, I quite enjoyed the character of Slim, the groom of the wedding as he struggles with his sexuality and the attention of a young transvestite. I would have loved to see more of his story explored but who knows? This is a four part saga and there’s plenty of times for the reader to get to know the characters a bit better. Personally, it was just unfortunate that I never felt fully invested in either the plot or the characters to get excited at any level and sadly, there’s not much chance of me ever continuing with the series.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 2):

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Savages: The Wedding was the thirty-first book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018.