#BookReview Lean on Me by Serge Joncour @BelgraviaB

Lean On MeAbout the Book

When a flock of crows invades their shared apartment block, farmer-turned-debt collector Ludovic and fashion designer Aurore speak for the first time. With nothing but the birds in common, the two are destined for separate lives, yet are drawn inexplicably together.

With one trapped in an unhappy marriage and the other lost in grief, the city of love has brought each of them only isolation and pain. As Aurore faces losing her business and Ludovic questions the ethics of his job, they begin a passionate affair. Love between such different people seems doomed to failure, but for these two unhappy souls trapped in ruthless worlds, perhaps loving one another is the greatest form of resistance.

Format: Paperback (384 pages)     Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 3rd March 2022 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Literature in Translation

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My Review

The menacing crows that inhabit the courtyard of the Paris apartment block where Aurore lives with her family reflect the current turmoil in her life. ‘The two crows embodied all the fears that were crowding in on her, everything that was going wrong, the mounting debts, her business partner who no longer spoke to her.’ Richard, Aurore’s husband, is distant and seemingly oblivious to her concerns about her business and the employees who depend on her. Making frequent trips abroad and spending more time on his phone making deals than listening to her, Richard thinks only in terms of numbers whereas, for Aurore, her design business is a very personal thing; apart from anything else, it carries her name.

It’s perhaps no surprise that, contrary to her initial instincts, she finds herself drawn to Ludovic, the neighbour who, unasked, takes practical steps to rid her of one of the problems in her life – the crows.  It’s not the last time he comes to her aid. When all about her seems on the brink of collapse, she comes to perceive Ludovic as unshakeable. ‘Perhaps there was such a thing as a man who could make you feel strong, a stranger who could lift you up when your family no longer even thought of doing so and you didn’t feel you could ask them.’ What’s more Ludovic seems to sense intuitively what Aurore needs without her having to say anything, whether that’s a shoulder to cry on or moral support at a difficult meeting.

Large of build, Ludovic may look unshakeable from the outside but inside he’s still grieving the death of his wife, haunted by the powerlessness he felt during her long illness and the sense that his physical strength served no purpose.  Perhaps that’s partly why he feels driven to help Aurore. She’s ‘a woman in peril’ and maybe this time he can be a saviour.

Paris, the backdrop to the story, is depicted as a teeming metropolis in which it’s possible to feel invisible or a perpetual outsider. That’s the way it seems to Ludovic, brought up in the country but having moved to Paris because he no longer feels there is a place for him in the family business. ‘Paris disturbed him. Since coming to live here, he found himself constantly knocking into people, barging into them without meaning to…’  For Aurore, it’s different. She feels reassured by being at the centre of things, surrounded by other people and absorbing the city’s energy.

I loved the insightful way the author explores the relationship that develops between Ludovic and Aurore. You get a real sense of what it’s like to be in the grip of a grand passion but also in a relationship which must remain secret: the weighing up of risk and reward, living in the moment and blocking out thoughts of the consequences of your actions whilst at the same time knowing you must ultimately face them. Although I could understand and empathise with Aurore’s situation, it was Ludovic who really touched my heart. A man who has grown used to living alone and has reconciled himself to a solitary existence – ‘The trouble with looking so strong was that nobody ever worried about him’ – yet shows infinite compassion for others such as his elderly neighbour. The subtle shift of the balance in the relationship between Aurore and Ludovic is deftly handled. When events reach a crisis point, Aurore realises she can reciprocate the help and protection Ludovic has provided to her.  ‘Ludovic, there’s something I’ve been wanting to say . . . Lean on me.’

I adored Lean on Me and was sad when my time with Aurore and Ludovic came to an end. It’s a love story which feels absolutely authentic and not romanticised in any way. Both Aurore and Ludovic have flaws, make mistakes and act at times without thinking, but that’s what happens in life, isn’t it?

I must praise the skill of the book’s translators, Jane Aitken & Louise Rogers Lalaurie, as the writing flows in such a way that I often had to remind myself I was reading a book originally written in another language. My thanks to Isabelle at Gallic Books for my review copy. I think this is the tenth book I’ve read published by Gallic Books and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

You can read Serge Jouncour’s thoughts here about the book’s themes of isolation and the natural world, as well as learn about the writers he has recently discovered.

In three words: Tender, insightful, moving

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Serge JoncourAbout the Author

Serge Joncour is a French novelist and screenwriter. He was born in Paris in 1961 and studied philosophy at university before deciding to become a writer. His first novel, Vu, was published by Le Dilettante in 1998. He wrote the screenplay for Sarah’s Key starring Kristin Scott Thomas, released in 2011.

His 2016 novel Repose-toi sur moi won the Prix Interallié. (Photo/bio: Publisher author page)

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