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.

Sunday Salon: A Messed-Up Foot and A Wind-Up Bird

I was born with bones in my feet which refused to align. My mother would put rubber spools between my toes when I was a baby in order to encourage them to grow straight, but alas, they would not. Thankfully, I was always able to walk, but not without discomfort.

I had a surgery on both feet in 1975, after which they were casted for the entire summer. I had another surgery in 2006, which turned out much better. After that one, I had to wear tennis shoes for six weeks which was a huge improvement over plaster casts. On Monday, I had surgery on my right foot; when that heals, I will have the left done.

It is not entirely woeful. I love having time to read. It is so sweet that my husband brings me every meal, my parents bring me bread pudding and jelly beans, my son brings me roses and aranciata San Pellegrino. All that, and being an introvert at heart, makes being quiet at home a sort of paradise.

As there is a lot of time needed for recovery from this third procedure, I asked a new blogging friend of mine at Swift as Inspiration if he had any interest in reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami with me. It is a rather lengthy book, one which I would love to discuss because I’m not entirely sure I understood all of it the first time around.

Then, I thought I would widen the invitation. If you have any inclination to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle with us, the schedule will go as follows:

Book One: The Thieving Magpie for the week of July 18

Book Two: Bird as Prophet for the week of July 25

Book Three: The Birdcatcher for the week of August 1

After each week, we will write a post with our thoughts and observations; hopefully you can engage in our discussion should you wish to read along (and post as well?).

Meanwhile, I am finishing books for Paris in July 22, and 20 Books of Summer. I have only read 12, if you count two I could not finish: Book of Night by Holly Black and Geiger by G. Skordeman. But, the French books have been an utter delight: Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley, Paris by Edward Rutherfurd, Maigret and The Reluctant Witness by Georges Simenon, and The Martins by David Foenkinos.

And you? Are you finding time to read? Enjoying anything related to France? Finishing your 20 Books of Summer?

Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses by Georges Simenon (translated from the French by William Hobson) for Paris in July 2022

I have been fully immersed in books for Paris in July 2022. It is wonderful to delve into a theme and stay there for awhile. Just as I do with every “challenge”, I found a wonderful author who is new to me. This year, it is Georges Simenon, who is certainly not new to very many. His Maigret novels are well-known, and well-loved, with, I can see, good reason.

Detective Chief Inspector Maigret works at the Police Judiciare in Paris. In this particular novel, Maigret And The Reluctant Witnesses, he is not only solving a case, but working out his imminent retirement and his advancing age.

When he leaves home, his wife reminds him not to forget his umbrella, and he’d better wear a scarf, for it was raining while coming home from the cinema the night before and he’d acquired a stiff neck. Now he feels old.

While arresting a man whose great passion is to sleep in rich people’s domiciles while they are away, using their kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, a call comes in from the prosecutor’s office to say that a man named Leonard Lachaume has been shot. Lachaume…the name brings back the memory of his childhood, where the village grocer sold “cellophane-wrapped biscuits labeled: Lachaume Biscuits. There were Lachaume sweet butter biscuits and Lachaume wafers, both of which, as it happened, had the same slightly cardboard taste.”

Maigret and Janvier head out to the Quai de la Gare, Ivry, where the incident happened and find a once impressive house, with a three-story brick and stone facade. It has since fallen into disrepair, and becomes almost a character in itself with its foreboding.

“Everything was decrepit, the house’s contents as well as its occupants. The family and the house had turned in on themselves, taking a hostile appearance.” (p. 45)

The family who resides there is most odd: a very elderly father and his wife, their son Armand and his wife, Paulette, and a hunchbacked woman who is their maid. The oldest son, Leonard, is lying upstairs in his bed with a gunshot wound in his chest.

The interview which Maigret conducts is most artful, as are his following strategies to solve the murder, for each of the family members is most unwilling to share anything but the most obvious information. Even that is given in one sentence responses, the conversation of which is delightful to read. I can imagine Maigret’s mounting frustration, as I feel it within myself, in trying to uncover the secret they are hiding within their family.

There is none of the contrived drama, the manipulation of facts or theories, which I find so prevalent in today’s mysteries. I was drawn back to my time in France, with the lovely bistros, the telephone booths in glassed walls called cabins, the mirrors behind the bars. Like Maigret, I often long for the charm of the past while being forced to manage the present day changes. I look forward to reading more of his mysteries, and fortunately, there are many to discover.

(Thanks to Tamara and Deb for hosting Paris in July 2022.)

Paris In July 2022 with Perestroika in Paris (“Paris beat all for strange goings-on, and who was he to deny that?”)

Twilight was descending over the vast green expanse of Auteuil Racecourse. The jumps had dimmed into dark shapes against the still vivid green grass. Admiring this, Paras did something that she often did – she pressed against the door of the stall, and this time something happened that had never happened before – it swung open. After a moment, Paras stepped carefully out onto the fine, crunchy gravel and snorted…Paras was a very curious filly.

Perestroika in Paris

I love a well written book with animals. Consider Charlotte’s Web, Pinocchio, and The Wind in The Willows. These creatures have shown me what it is to be brave, or adventurous, or even foolish.

While I was reading Perestroika in Paris, I thought about how delightful it would be to read it to my class. Really, it is such a charming, light-hearted tale of a racehorse, a retriever, and a raven who live in Paris, forming a trio of friendship in some ways similar to The Three Musketeers. They forge their own way, independent and resourceful. They show me Paris through their eyes.

They have taken me, again, to the Champ de Mars, the Place de Chaillot, the Place du Trocadero, and the Tour Eiffel. Their observations of these famous landmarks, and more, are fresh as well as often amusing. Raoul, the raven, has this opinion about the Tour Eiffel:

Raoul was sitting on one of the struts of the great Tour, useless, as far as Raoul could see, to humans, but a wonderful convenience for Aves…

When a young boy, named Etienne, observes Paras from his grandmother’s home where he lives, he invites her in. His grandmother is blind, and deaf, and somehow doesn’t seem to notice (or care about?) the presence of a horse in her salon. Using his own ingenuity, Etienne gains the aid of a butcher, a baker, and a gardener to help keep his secret.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this impossible tale, for while noting that it could not happen in actuality, I was hoping deep down that it would.

(I read this book for 20 Books of Summer 2022, as well as Paris in July 2022. I am now beginning Paris by Edward Rutherford, and it is merveilleux.