November 2019 book reviews
We read recent releases with a link to France. To be fair, each gets 20 minutes’ reading time. This month, we will look at Lullaby, The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris, The Kommandant’s House, and A Nice Cup of Tea
Lullaby Leïla Slimani ***EDITOR'S CHOICE***
Faber & Faber, £12.99 ISBN: 978-0-571-33753-8
This novel is often described as the ‘French Gone Girl’.
A successful couple, Myriam and Paul, have everything they could wish for: a beautiful apartment in Paris and two children that Myriam does not want to leave and continues to look after, even if she could have returned to work.
But their perfect life is going to be turned upside down when Myriam finally decides to work again.
As a lawyer, she finds herself fully committed to her job, although she always feels a bit guilty not to be with her children. She and her husband hire a nanny in her forties, Louise, who looks like the perfect second mother of the children.
She quickly creates a close relationship with them and becomes a vital addition to the family, relied upon her for cleaning, cooking and taking care of the children.
However, as we know from the first very page, the nanny is going to kill the children. The more we read the more we discover about her – she has a lot to hide. The gripping story was inspired by a real case that happened in Manhattan a few years ago.
The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris Ruby Boukabou
White Owl, £14.99 ISBN: 978-1526733658
This book is excellent for anyone who is planning a trip to Paris but even more suitable for those living there.
It is a guide full of information, history and tips on everything related to art, culture and architecture.
The book is divided into different sections and themes which make it easier to find what you could be looking for or what interests you.
It traces the history of the arts in Paris and the author does not overlook the essentials and the capital’s best-known museums, such as Le Louvre, Musée d’Orsay or Quai Branly.
However, if you already know about these there is much more to discover as you can also learn about smaller galleries, the best public places to see street art, nice cafés and restaurants, and how to attend an art auction and buy a piece.
There are great tips on how to participate in art workshops and also a reminder of all the annual events and other art fairs in Paris.
The little extra thing is that readers can also get to know more about Paris’ architecture and find the best viewpoints in the city as well as nice locations to take memorable photographs.
The only thing missing may be the prices of museums, but the author always mentions when entrance is free.
The author also gives advice on some cultural day trips, not too far away from Paris if you are looking for another art getaway.
Chantilly and Fontainebleau are notably on the list.
The Kommandant’s House Marian Rowan
Crux Publishing, £8.99 ISBN: 978-1-909979-83-3
From war to love, loyalty to family, this novel deals with several themes mixed together.
It all starts when the Nazi army arrives in a village in Haute-Marne, in July 1940.
Nobody knows how long they are going to stay and most of the French villagers remain defiant during the occupation although it is seen as a way to keep peace for the Kommandant and his soldiers.
The Kommandant, the chief of the army, has settled into the house belonging to Marguerite and her mother, but the mother – who is raising her children alone – would have preferred to avoid having a German in her house and is being quite rude to him. She first refuses to cook for him – despite promises made by her daughter – as they need to save money since the departure of her father.
As the mother continues to hate Germans, Marguerite, who has two brothers, finds a father figure in the Kommandant, to whom she becomes really close during this hard time for the chief. He, too, sees in Marguerite a copy of his own daughter and her baby brother reminds him of his own son.
At the beginning, we learn plenty about him and his feelings as he writes some letters to his wife. He then gives up writing letters to write a diary which he thinks he will be able to give to his wife when he is back in Germany in a few months.
On the other hand, Marguerite always makes her mother angry and she ends up living a secret life when she falls in love with a young German soldier.
The 14-year-old teenager benefits from the help of the Kommandant, who has seen her hiding her secrets from her mother and suspects her romance with his soldier. He offers her a diary so she can confide and write about her secrets. The Kommandant and Marguerite are the two main characters but it is interesting to see their two different perceptions of life during the occupation.
The innocent Marguerite is trying to live her teenage years while the Kommandant is trying to do his job.
Although he cannot wait to be back in Germany with his wife and children, he has to be brave to continue managing his soldiers while the Resistance is secretly becoming stronger in the village.
A Nice Cup of Tea Celia Imrie,
Bloomsbury, £12.99 ISBN: 978-1-4088-8326-6
This book is the third of a series about five retired expats living on the French Riviera, between Monaco and Cannes.
They have united their efforts and funds to launch their own restaurant, La Mosaïque, in the village of Bellevue-sur-Mer, but the restaurant is not working that well and they decide to sell it via an auction.
If everything seems to work according to plan at the beginning, there is trouble in paradise when they learn that a painting by Picasso in the restaurant will prevent them from getting the profits of the auction. At this point, everything goes wrong and the group of friends need to find a solution to survive.
They come up with another idea: they are going to deliver food with a van. Not everyone is enthusiastic about this idea, especially Sally, a former actress who keeps on thinking about her acting days.
Moreover, personal problems add up and it is not going to be easy to manage a business and their personal life.
This story might be easier to understand and follow for those who have read the first novels of Celia Imrie, Not Quite Nice and Nice Work (If You Can Get It). Mrs Imrie writes light stories and this book remains easy to read if you are looking for a little break or if you are on holiday.