The Martins by David Foenkinos (translated from the French by Sam Taylor) Paris in July 2022

Published July 16, 2022 by Gallic Books

The Martins has sold more than 100,000 copies in its first two months on sale in France. It is about a disillusioned Parisian writer who finds inspiration in the ordinary lives of his neighbors, the Martins.

When the author is bored, and uninspired, he steps out of his apartment and introduces himself to an elderly woman coming down the sidewalk with her shopping. He addresses her with this comment:

I know this might seem a bit strange, but…It’s a challenge that I set myself…I’ll spare you the details but basically I decided that I was going to write about the first person I met in the street.

p. 11

Indeed, it does strike her as strange, but not so much that she refuses him. Rather, she invites him into her home, as she has things that need to go in the freezer, and they begin to talk. Soon, she is telling him about her first love. Later, he becomes involved with writing about her daughter’s life as well, with her husband and two teenagers.

I had infiltrated a tired family, trapped on the wheel of routine; passengers on the same ship who brushed past each other without ever really meeting.

p. 41

Each one confides in him: the husband’s feelings of discontent with work; the wife’s feelings of not being desired; the daughter’s curiosity about a boy she wants to date; and the son’s utter reluctance to confide much of anything.

Irony is often the gateway to despair…When you aren’t happy, other people’s lives always seem much more interesting; your judgment on such matters is impaired to say the least.

p. 55

As he listens to their woes, he considers his own. What of the woman who has left him because he wouldn’t listen to her? Do they still have a chance? And, what of the mother’s first love, who now resides in Los Angeles, California? The author and this elderly woman make the trip to meet him, and while there, he continues an exchange of texts that he and his former love have recently conducted.

The conclusion of this novel is quite satisfying. Without any sort of outcome that one might expect, or even hope for, there is a specific resolution for each character within these pages. I found it a delightful excursion to Paris, as well as insight into a family which may live anywhere so common is their experience to humankind.

Finally, a few quotes which intrigued me while reading. The first, is a question he asks the elderly mother:

How did your relationship with time change once your days were numbered?

p. 64

She tells him, earlier, that she worked in the fashion industry with Karl Lagerfeld, who apparently said that:

“Silence was his mother’s favorite melody.”

p. 128

And finally, this, when the mother’s daughter, who feels undesired by her husband, comes out of her room to have dinner with the author:

She was wearing make up and her body was sheathed in a skin-tight dress, elevated on high-heels; her outfit was a trailer for the film of her thoughts.

p. 131

These are only a few of the marvelous insights which occur on almost every page of The Martins, which I found to be a most enjoyable novel.

Find more thought at Mae’s Food Blog and at Words and Peace.