#BookReview The Martins by David Foenkinos

The MartinsAbout the Book

‘Go out into the street and the first person you see will be the subject of your next book.’

This is the challenge a struggling Parisian writer sets himself, imagining his next heroine might be the mysterious young woman who often stands smoking near his apartment … instead it’s octogenarian Madeleine. She’s happy to become the subject of his book – but first she needs to put away her shopping.

Is it really true, the writer wonders, that every life is the stuff of novels, or is his story doomed to be hopelessly banal? As he gets to know Madeleine and her family, he’ll be privy to their secrets: lost loves, marital problems and workplace worries. And he’ll soon realise he is not the impartial bystander he intended to be, but a catalyst for major changes in the lives of his characters.

Format: Paperback (256 pages)    Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 16th June 2022 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

The Martins, translated from the French by Sam Taylor, is a gloriously playful book in which the author, in his role as narrator, takes plenty of self-deprecating swipes at himself and fellow writers. At one point he concedes that the comparison of a writer to a conman is pretty fair and later likens an author to a vampire in their thirst for the tragic elements of a story, observing ‘Let’s be honest, nobody is interested in happiness’.

Initially our narrator intends the subject of his book to be Madeleine, the elderly woman pulling a purple shopping trolley who invites him back for tea. When her daughter, Valerie, assures him (wrongly, as it turns out) that her mother’s memory is fading he becomes quite excited about the ways he could represent this in literary form, such as leaving blank pages or writing contradictory chapters.  Soon, however, he finds the scope of the book expanding to include not only Valerie but her husband Patrick, and their two children, Lola and Jérémie. He also begins to be drawn into the daily domestic life of the family, something he’s not entirely happy about, wondering if he’s ended up with the kind of ‘hackneyed’ characters he could have invented himself or that readers will find the book boring. He needn’t have worried because before long all sorts of events affect the family, in many cases provoked by his introduction into their life. (My favourite was Patrick and the curtains.) The narrator also finds attention turned on his own life.

The book is full of self referential humour. For example, the narrator constantly reminds himself he’s documenting the family’s lives not writing fiction and therefore mustn’t indulge in invention (two Poles says he does). I especially enjoyed the occasional footnotes containing witty asides, memos to himself (‘need to think about that phrase later’), notes recording ‘What I Know About My Characters’, and supplementary information (such as the definition of an aptronym). There’s also a list detailing possible reasons for the actions of one of the characters, the reader being invited to guess which will turn out to be correct. (I was wrong.)

The Martins is charming, funny and thoroughly entertaining.

My thanks to Isabelle at Gallic Books for my advance reading copy.

In three words: Witty, playful, engaging

Try something similarRed Is My Heart by Antoine Laurain

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David FoenkinosAbout the Author

David Foenkinos was born in Paris in 1974. At the age of sixteen he spent several months in hospital due to a heart condition, and there discovered his love of reading.

He is the author of eighteen novels, which have been translated into more than forty languages. In 2009, sales of his novel Delicacy exceeded one million copies in France; Foenkinos and his brother directed the film adaptation, with Audrey Tautou playing the lead. Charlotte, his fictionalised biography of the young Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon, who was murdered at Auschwitz in 1943, was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt and won the Prix Reandout and the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens; it too sold over one million copies. His novel The Mystery of Henri Pick was adapted for the screen in France in 2018, with Fabrice Luchini and Camille Cottin in the lead roles.

Prior to becoming a writer, he studied jazz, and for a while taught guitar. He has two children, Alice and Victor, and lives in Paris. (Photo: Publisher author page)

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