10 May 2014

Marc Levy: L'Étrange voyage de Monsieur Daldry (2011)

Many readers in France at least have a very low opinion of Marc Levy – he's a salesman rather than a writer, he can't write very well, he manipulates his readers, and of course the biggest crime of all for many: he sells many millions in many languages so how can he be any good if he's so popular?

Well, there's not necessarily a direct correlation between popular fiction and bad fiction, but much of it is very bad. Anyway, I decided I had to read something of his as I knew nothing of his work, so I just chose this at random. And, well...

The title L'Étrange voyage de Monsieur Daldry is faithfully translated literally into English as The Strange Journey of Mr Daldry. And the book seems very uneven, veering from a grown-up Enid Blyton story, a mystery with shades of the paranormal, a fairy tale, and a love story: sometimes racealong, sometimes glittery and boring, occasionally quite riveting.

Without going into the basics of the story – which at 350 pages is far too long, contains too many coincidences and eventually creaks to its predictable conclusion – I'll try and say what I like about it.

Daldry – who paints crossroads – is an interesting creation, as is Alice, who is an expert on olfactory taxonomy: she can pick out the sources of complex smells with uncanny skill.

Towards the end of the book there is a development in epistolary form, Alice and Daldry communicating their hitherto unverbalised and otherwise unexpressed love at the pace of snails, and still ending up by looking extremely constipated. Great!

But then the deus ex machina in the form of a funfair ticket is found: yet another creak too many. These letters show that Levy can write with subtle, and considerable, skill: why then does he spoil it by writing so much overblown, unbelievable stuff? Oh, it's the money? He's not much like Daldry then.

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