David Foenkinos is a popular French author and screenwriter. Although he has already written about twenty novels, I only discovered him recently with Le Mystère Henri Pick, a fantastic novel on the world of books, writers, and publishers.
So I was thrilled to receive from Gallic Books his latest novel to be translated into English: The Martins, another excellent book on books.
From the get go (to the very last line actually), you feel inside a metafiction, like the French love to do: this is about an author who can’t find any inspiration to write his next novel, and so decides to go out in the street and choose the first person he meets as the main character of his next book.
The author and first person narrator of The Martins is never named, and you always wonder if it’s Foenkinos himself or not. Actually, he is and he isn’t.
Foenkinos loves to use real life as a basis of his novels, and he did choose one day the challenge to do exactly that: go out in the street, talk to people, and write his novel from there. Some characters in the book are real, some are fictional.
So the first person he meets is this old lady, Madeleine, who actually invites him right away to her apartment and who starts sharing about her life, her past occupations, and her first love.
From one thing to the next, he gets to know her daughter’s family (the Martins), and gets more and more involved in their life, with some unexpected consequences.
Along the way, the author also inserts some of his own life in his book.
Beside the fun plot –and fun it is, as Foenkinos did want to write a playful (“ludique” in French) book on the art and process of writing, as he often repeats in interviews– this is a wonderful reflection on authors, on their relationships with their characters (when authors write a book, and after it is published), on how to build a plot, on how to use material, on the mix between reality and fiction (the book cover is a great illustration of that), on genres to choose from.
Any person you put in a book will start acting like a character in a novel.
It is also on what makes a good book, and how readers react to them.
And even more than that, it is a great social window on French society: from Patrick and his crazy boss, to the two teenagers of the family, with a picture perfect of young people and their trauma at that difficult age.
And there are references to other authors, like this hilarious passage on Milan Kundera!:
Besides, the book is peppered with interesting snippets of wisdom, such as:
It is the death of the unexpected that marks the true turning point of a life, the descent into old age.
Once again, we have to salute Gallic Books‘ great choice of works to make better known to English readers. The experienced and award winner Sam Taylor produced here a flowing and seamless translation.
VERDICT: Neat French metafiction on the world of books, authors, and characters, with insightful snapshots on social behaviors. Could life be as strange as fiction?
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this book free of charge for review. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.