7 December 2011

David Foenkinos: La Délicatesse (2009)

There are many perceptive observations in this book. Foenkinos's main character is a woman, and certainly his feminism ­is evident — the way, for example, he dissects (and as a result excoriates) the transparent lust-driven subterfuges of Nathalie's boss Charles, or the way in which he delineates her grief. And the repercussions of François's death are seen at work not only as a catalyst in Charles's inappropriate moves toward Nathalie, but also in the shock of the florist who drove the crash van, and even in her unsatisfied customer who didn't see his floral marriage proposal delivered, this burgeoning love of course serving as a counterpoint to the brutally ended marriage. Violence can be inadvertent and ironic, as in the staff, out of respect, not touching Nathalie's desk during her three months' absence, but forgetting that the calendar still marks the day before tragedy struck, when François was still alive.

At the center of the novel is Nathalie's coming alive again in her growing love for the rather odd Markus, a Swede who isn't ugly but certainly not handsome, with a strange dress sense and slightly eccentric behaviour. But he has an unexpected — and highly unlikely — effect on Nathalie: this man has no edge, and his inventive humor makes him fun to be with.

Foenkinos is noted for his novels of love interest and his humor, but the serious and the playful perhaps don't gel too happily here, and there are a number of infelicities, mainly in the gimmicks: rather silly footnotes, a brief theater scene that is relevant but seems incongruous, chapters of lists (football matches, people's zodiac signs, maxims by Cioran (a Foenkinos favorite), a quotation from Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch, parts of Alain Souchon's 'L'Amour en fuite' (two chapters), songs by John Lennon (another Foenkinos favorite), definitions of délicat from Larousse, etc).

A curate's egg.

Addendum: This book has been adapted into a movie starring Audrey Tautou, directed by the author, and called Delicacy in English.

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