October 2018 book reviews
Connexion journalists read the latest French releases. To be fair, each gets 20 minutes’ reading time
Love is Blind, William Boyd
Viking, £12.99 ISBN: 978-0-241-29594-6
The inner workings of a piano are a surprising way to start a love story but we learn a lot about what makes a piano tinkle as we meet Brodie Moncur in an Edinburgh piano manufacturer’s.
Perhaps more than most would want to, but Brodie has an excellent ear, making him a fine piano tuner and, as it happens, the perfect man to fine-tune both pianos and sales in the company’s Paris saleroom.
Instantly likeable, Brodie is the opposite of his tyrannical clergyman father and there is a sourness in their relationship that makes it easy to see why Brodie is so keen to get away.
Once he reaches France he makes an immediate impression on sales... and another man’s mistress makes an immediate impression on him.
Beautiful but seemingly unattainable, Lika is a Russian soprano and the mistress of piano virtuoso John Kilbarron. They are thrown together as Kilbarron takes them on a concert tour; one to tune the pianos and the other to tune the maestro.
Soon they are together; clandestine unions follow as Kilbarron tours from Paris to Geneva, Nice and pre-revolution St Petersburg before the lovers flee and are pursued by Kilbarron’s vengeful brother.
But where will their passion lead...?
Inhuman Resources, Pierre Lemaitre
Maclehose, £16.99 ISBN: 978-0-85705-356-5
Pierre Lemaitre has a dangerous habit of lulling readers into a false sense of security and this feels as if it will go the same way from the first few pages.
Alain Delambre is a 57-year-old former HR executive, who has had no proper work for four years since being laid off.
Depressed, demoralised and desperate, he also has a sore head after retaliating against a (real) boot in the backside at one of the minor jobs he has found.
As always, he applies for any jobs he finds; as always, he is rejected... but not this time. He is bowled over when a major company invites him for interview.
It seems so unlikely that he will succeed but as events – and Alain – spiral out of control his sense of desperation takes over from his common sense. Why else would he still be involved with a company that was planning a test that involved hostage taking?
If your own situation or feelings are in any way similar to Alain’s then this may perhaps not be the book for you.
Corporate shenanigans, role-playing and the chase for profit no matter the consequences are not good bedfellows for any kind of social conscience... and once the company has Alain where it wants him it, naturally, pushes too far.
The aftermath is bloody.
Telling Tales, the fabulous lives of Anita Leslie, Penny Perrick
Bloomsbury, £9.99 ISBN: 978-14882-1721-2
Given that this is a book about a woman who won both Croix de Guerre (twice) and Africa Star – the only woman to do so – it seems strange that one reads more about Anita Leslie’s social life and contacts than her wartime exploits.
Perhaps she wrote enough about it herself, in her Train to Nowhere, but where the intro tells of a woman proud of what she had done as an ambulancière in the French army and who wanted her medals included in a portrait...
It also mentions her fascination with fascism and of her commanding officer’s order to “always wear lipstick”.
Much about the biographer of Jennie Churchill, sculptor Rodin and Madame Tussaud seems contradictory but there is little clarity here in the tangle of her love affairs.
It reveals her darker side but the woman who saw action on the battlefields of Egypt, Syria, Italy and France was a complicated woman from a bygone age.
Columbus in Space, Julien Harrod/European Space Agency
Century, £8.99 ISBN: 978-1780899-312
Circling 400km above our heads for the past 10 years, the Columbus science laboratory on the International Space Station is Europe’s most advanced space laboratory and the only place scientists can perform ‘out of this world’ experiments.
This fully-illustrated paperback is the ‘inside story’ on a mission that started on the Space Shuttle Atlantis and continues today with fundamental research on everything from cold plasma technology to destroy unwanted odours, enzymes to slow ageing and ways to grow plants in micro-gravity for future space missions.
Detailed but easily understood, this is the full story of Columbus.
Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, Raphaëlle Giordano
Bantam £12.99 ISBN: 978-0-59307-984-3
This has ‘feel good’ book plastered all over it and, aimed at readers stuck in a rut, promises to show them how to fall back in love with life.
Published in France in 2015, it grew steadily by word-of-mouth to become a top ten seller and it is easy to see why.
Camille has had a puncture, in the pouring rain, in the middle of nowhere. She walks to find help and chances upon a mansion where she rings the bell. Miracle of miracles: someone answers and opens the gate.
He is Claude and looks like a Gallic Sean Connery. He may not be an angel, but he is the nearest thing as Camille dissolves in tears at all the frustrations in work, family life and the rain.
Claude told her he felt he knew what was wrong: Acute routinitis. “It’s a sickness of the soul that affects more and more people in the world... the symptoms are a lack of motivations; chronic dissatisfaction; feelings you’ve lost your bearings.”
Now, some people will immediately launch this book right into the bin; they cannot suspend disbelief for long enough to take the chance. For the rest, this could be a chance of a better life.