Paris in July: Four French Delights

Posted July 22, 2016 by Lory in brief reviews, reviews / 10 Comments

Paris-in-July-16-official

Paris in July is an event hosted by Thyme for Tea that encourages us to enjoy and blog about all things French — books, movies, food, what have you. In a burst of synchronicity, when I learned of this event I already had not just one, but four books on my shelf to go with the theme, including several newly published or reissued translations from French, and one debut novel in English. I had a fabulous time immersing myself in French history, culture, and atmosphere with these books, and I hope you will too!

 

SunKing
Constellation
GirlAfternoon
LifeElves

The Sun King Conspiracy by Yves Lego and Denis Lepee, translated by Sue Dyson
This historical novel is set during the early years of the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV. A highly complex tapestry of voices, and plot threads, it seems to attempt to put a “Da Vinci Code”-type spin on French history, with mixed success. For me the first half, which we spend waiting for the death of Cardinal Mazarin, the real power behind the throne for many years, dragged a bit. The second half, when Louis comes into his own and some fortunes rise while others fall, was more exciting, but the concluding reveal of the great conspiracy that had been anticipated throughout the book was a letdown — silly and unconvincing. The large cast of characters and short chapters, with their abrupt scene changes, could also be confusing. Still, I enjoyed the panoramic view of a time and place about which I had previously read very little, even though the perspective on certain historical characters and events should be taken with a large grain of salt.
Gallic Books, April 2016 (reissue) • Source: ARC from publisher

Constellation by Adrien Bosc, translated by Willard Wood
On October 27, 1949, the Air France aircraft Constellation-BAZN took off from Orly airport with 48 souls. In the early hours of October 28, as it was landing for refueling in the Azores, the plane disappeared. In this short novel, Bosc gives voice to some of the individuals who perished, both famous and unknown, as well as retracing the response of the world to the tragedy, and even giving some insight into his personal research journey. Structured as brief vignettes that switch from one topic and point of view to another, it was more like a tantalizing set of appetizers than a full meal, leaving me wanting to know more about some of the lives we glimpse so fleetingly. Yet perhaps that was partly the point — to highlight the briefness and transience of life, leaving us with an impression like a sprinkling of stars in the night.
Other Press, May 2016 • Source: ARC from publisher

Girl in the Afternoon by Serena Burdick
Burdick’s debut novel was a compelling read that I finished in nearly a single sitting, with its story of two young painters in 1870s Paris, and the web of family secrets, deceit and betrayal that both binds and divides them. Though the subject matter is sensationalistic, Burdick’s treatment of it is not; rather than aiming at big, splashy effects, she quietly makes us feel the emotional impact of the events she describes, through subtle and evocative turns of phrase that make her writing a pleasure to read. It wasn’t quite what I thought it would be — the artistic themes stayed more in the background than I had expected — but that turned out not to be a problem, as the result was moving, surprising, and thought-provoking.
St. Martin’s Press, July 2016 • Source: ARC from publisher

The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson
I haven’t quite finished this one yet, but I already know that it’s one readers will find either magically poetic or utterly impenetrable — and I know that I tend toward the first camp, though with understanding for the second. An atmospheric, slow-moving fantasy about two extraordinary girls in pre-WWII France and Italy, it’s one of those rare books I can enjoy without always entirely understanding what is going on. It reminded me in various ways of Little, Big; Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell; the Gormenghast books; and The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. . . so if you love any of those, it is probably worth a try.
Europa Editions, February 2016 • Source: E-book from library

Some copies were received for review consideration from the publisher. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.

 

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

10 responses to “Paris in July: Four French Delights

  1. I’ve read The Sun King Conspiracy and enjoyed it, but I agree that it was confusing at times and the revelation of the conspiracy itself was disappointing. The Life of Elves sounds intriguing! I love Jonathan Strange and Gormenghast, so maybe I should give it a try.

    • I do think it is worth a try! The style is very particular though — you will soon know whether you want to persist with it or not.

  2. Thank you for linking in with Paris in July. There’s some good reviews here… I hadn’t heard about Muriel Barbey’s book – I really enjoyed the Hedgehog, so I think I’ll keep my eye open for this one. There’s never enough time in my life for the joys of reading…. so I enjoy the reviews alot.

    • Thank you for the occasion to share these reviews and see what everyone else is reading. It is wonderful to see the variety.

  3. Four interesting sounding books. I like what you have to say about them all but The Life of Elves especially. Sometimes we just don’t understand all of a book but the writing just brings us along. Magic!

  4. My copy of The Life of Elves arrived this morning and I’m thrilled to see from your review that you liked it. I love all the books to which you’ve compared it, which is also good, although I’ve never heard of The Green Snake and the Lily, must go and find out more.

    • The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily is also known as “The Fairy Tale” by Goethe. It’s contained within a longer work of his but can also be found separately.

      I can’t wait to see what you think of The Life of Elves — I did not end up loving it as much as I did the other books I mentioned, but there were parts that I really enjoyed.