17 December 2017

François-Marie Banier: Balthazar, fils de famille (1985)

Today, any mention of François-Marie Banier is perhaps inevitably greeted with a smile or a laugh, in remembrance of his recent antics in the court case over Liliane Bettancourt, for which he was imprisoned for financially abusing a very rich woman deprived of her mental faculties. The humour was caused by his literary pretensions, his histrionics.

So what was I expecting to find in Balthazar, fils de famille, which I scooped up for the grand sum of nothing in the giraffe in Marseilles?  Not a great deal I must admit, and yet.

And yet this is not only a quick read but, in its way, a fascinating one. Written over thirty years ago, when Banier was in his late twenties, Balthazar, fils de famille is autobiographical: Balthazar, like Banier, has a father of Hungarian origin who physically abused him, used to live in the centre of rue Victor Hugo in the 16e, went to the lycée Janson-de-Sailly, and sold his own paintings in the street.

How much of his alienation as an adolescent, his search for substitute parents, his love for a girl met during holiday, and his attempted suicide are true I don't know, but this is a very surprisingly, and surprisingly well done, novel. Yes, very readable, and quite possibly more autobiographical than I at first thought.

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