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The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos - Review

Monday, April 4, 2022

 

This was our March choice for my book club. I'm not sure who chose it, but I was a bit apprehensive about the book but ended up really enjoying it. It is a bizarre book though! I think most people will like it but I bet there's a couple in my book club who don't!

So this book is a translation of the original French, so of course there may be some things that aren't exactly as the author intended, but I quite like that. It's also a very meta book, it self-references several times. It's also very tongue in cheek, which I liked. The narration is a little odd too, at several points there are footnotes in the book where the narrator becomes completely omniscient and tells the reader something that will happen later. I don't often read books like this, but I don't mind it. 

The book is set in Brittany, near Dinan, which is somewhere I've been so I could imagine it perfectly which I liked. There is a library in a town called Crozon, and the librarian there has set up a library for writers' discarded manuscripts. Based on something American author Richard Brautigan really did, the librarian, Gourvec, has set up a place for authors to drop off their unpublished manuscripts. His only rule is that they must be dropped off in person. Courvec dies, and his assistant, who I think is called Marion, takes over the library.

Meanwhile, an author called Frederic has written an underwhelming book and is feeling despondent about it. His girlfriend Delphine is an editor for a publishing house; she is who published him. He is determined to write a better novel. He accompanies Delphine to Brittany, where she is from. Her parents mention Gourvec's library, so Frederic and Delphine head across. 

There they find a manuscript that they think is brilliant. It has the name Henri Pick on it. Some digging finds that he is dead, and that he was the owner of a pizzeria in town, which he owned with his wife Madeleine. Delphine wants to publish the book, so they visit Madeleine to ask her permission. 

Madeleine is surprised that her husband wrote a book, as she never saw him read anything and spent most of her time with him. She agrees that he could have written in the early mornings. She and her daughter Josephine, owner of a lingerie shop in Rennes, decide that the book can be published. 

It is, and both women appear on TV and in newspapers to talk about the book. The book is a huge success and the library grows extensively as more and more people visit it. But some people wonder whether Henri could have written such a masterpiece at all. A journalist called Rouche heads to Brittany to investigate. He is in the middle of breaking up with his girlfriend, which is an interesting plot point but ultimately not relevant to the story. That's NOT the only plot point like that, but I liked it!

It took me a day or two to get into the book but once I did I really liked it. It's boggling and it changes direction a lot, which I also liked. I would recommend it for sure, and I'm giving it four out of five. 

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