To be honest, it was the cover of this novel, The Rest of Their Lives by French author Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, that attracted me to the book. Even I’m occasionally (=very often) drawn towards bubblegum colours. I also love European literature, and this quirky novel did definitely not disappoint me. It has the perfect ingredients to be one of Helena’s Best Reads.
The main characters of the book are both complex, with interesting backgrounds and jobs that are literary gold to any author or reader.
Manelle is a home help to the elderly. Her clients vary from the bad-tempered and cynical Marcel Mauvinier, to the old lovebirds, Madame and Monsieur Fournier, who after fifty-eight years of marriage “stay afloat by clinging to each other”. There’s also Manelle’s favourite client, always smiling, chef-gourmand Samuel, who showers her carer with the sweetest of endearments, and who –in spite of his 82 years – has become a firm friend to the lonely young woman.
On the other hand, Ambroise, “saddled with the same name as the famous father of modern surgery”, has opted for a career in embalming, deeply disappointing his ambitious Nobel-laureate father. His unusual profession, as well as making dating difficult, gives the book a brilliant twist – and the reader a fascinating insight into what happens to the deceased after they have passed, and before being laid to rest.
Charming Love Story
Although one of the major characters in this book is Death with a capital ‘D’, it is also fundamentally about life and love. As soon as we meet the two main characters, you pray that they will meet. However, the author takes his time in allowing the reader the satisfaction of a love story. Half-way through the novel, I was yearning for a coming together of these two so obviously matched lovers, although I was also fascinated by the stories of the many minor characters. When, finally, Manelle and Ambroise meet, sparks do satisfyingly fly, yet the author does not let the love story dominate the narrative. As you read on, you come to realise that the novel is mainly about how the various characters interact. As well as romantic love, the story is about family, friendship and living life to the full.
One of the downsides of being an author is that you quite often guess the ending of any book you’re reading. Even those that promise “a twist that you’ll never see coming”. So it was refreshing that I really didn’t guess how this lovely, life-affirming story would end. Of course, I will not share the twist with you, but hope you will enjoy this novel as much as I did!
The Rest of Their Lives by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent
Available from Amazon and other good bookshops
In reviewing international fiction, the translators are often ignored, so I wanted to mention the excellent translation of this novel by Ros Schwartz. My French isn’t adequate enough to be able to read something like this novel in its original language, but I felt that the translator had retained some of the original Gallic style in the story. Reading the first words, I felt I’d entered the world of classic French films such as Amelie or Jules et Jim. The sentence structure, and the word choice, although grammatically correct, took me to a French fiction book, rather than an English-language novel. I have no idea how translators achieve this effect, so I take my hat off to all talented wordsmiths like Ros Schwartz. Without you we’d never be able to enjoy foreign fiction.
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