New French fiction: with a focus on food, cinema and lovemaking

0

De Kerangal takes us through different cuisines, geographies and individuals in the life of young Mauro, whose art is profoundly social (cooking ends in the mouths of others) but whose gift isolates him. To create, he must spend hours in “unshareable solitude, and that tension is embodied in de Kerangal’s nearly invisible first-person narrator, an old friend who meets him for drinks and knows him inside out, but remains so peripheral that we never learn his name. The effect of this intimate yet distant narrative voice is to heighten our sense of isolation from the leader, surrounded by those he nurtures but set apart from them. In this he remembers the heart giver in Kerangal’s fascinating novel, “The Heart”. And it reflects the human condition itself, which is to be, as the Buddhist writer Stephen Batchelor put it, “alone with others.”
100pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $20.

WAITING FOR THE BOJANGLES
By Olivier Bourdeault
Translated by Regan Kramer

Narrated by two alternating voices, that of a child and that of his father, Bourdeaut’s strange fairy tale about a family struggling with a mother’s mental illness begins as a maniacal frolic, hilarious until it is overtaken by the tragedy. Naive and full of spirit, the child tells the story of his family threesome madness: parents who drink and dance non-stop (Scott and Zelda redux), his own “early retirement” from primary school sanctioned by his parents, his mother’s jumping contests with him on living room furniture, the wild crane guarded as a pet. Mom treats her son, he remarks with delight, “like a character from a book she loved very much” and tells him: “When reality is sad or banal, invent a beautiful story”. And that’s what he does. Bourdeaut announces from the outset: “This is my real story, with lies that come and go, because life is often like that.”

Scattered among the son’s pages are doggerel-strewn prose excerpts from the father’s “secret diary,” which records his passion for his beloved: “In her eyes I looked at her, and I have all of immediately knew that I was addicted. The two met at a cocktail party on the Riviera where he first saw her as “a young woman in a feathered bonnet and a floaty dress” who “started dancing with great finesse”, seducing her admirer in a “cadence that made the feathers in her”. the headdress swings and rattles incessantly, like one of those wheels that the Tibetans use to pray. Passing with the rhythm of the regal grace of a swan to the rapid precision of a raptor, it nailed me to the spot: I was afraid that I had met my captor.

These rhymes (which also appear occasionally in the son’s narrative) are more graceful in the original French. Kramer is to be commended for his efforts to translate them, but too often they get in the way. Despite everything, this strange little book lingers in the mind.
160 pages. Simon & Schuster. $23.99.

Share.

Comments are closed.