Martin Walker – To Kill a Troubadour

Martin Walker – To Kill a Troubadour

Summer could be enjoyable and light hearted but then, the cosy Périgord region is caught in Spain’s trouble with Catalonia’s independence movement. “Les Troubadours”, a local folk group, have published a song supporting autonomy for the region that shares their cultural heritage. The song goes viral and soon not only the Spanish government but also shady groups become aware of the poet and the band. When the police find a sniper’s bullet and a stolen car in the woods, the know that the situation is much more serious than they thought and that people are in real danger as the Troubadours are about to perform a large concert.

Martin Walker continues his series around the French countryside chief of police Bruno Courrèges. Even though also the 15th Dordogne mystery offers a lot to recognise from the former novels, “To Kill a Troubadour” is much more political and takes up a current real life topic. Apart from this, you’ll get exactly what you’d expect from the series: a lot of food to indulge in, history of the region and the French countryside where everybody seems to be friends with everybody.

One would expect the life of a countryside policeman to be rather unspectacular and slow, however, this could not be farer away from Bruno’s reality. Not only do big conflicts come to his cosy province, but also a case of domestic violence demands his full attention.

What I appreciated most, like in other instalments of the series before, was how the cultural heritage was integrated into the plot and teaches about the history you along the way in a perfectly dosed manner.

Full of suspense while offering the well-known French countryside charm, a wonderful read to look forward to summer holidays in France.

Amanda Bestor-Siegal – The Caretakers

Amanda Bestor-Siegal – The Caretakers

When Lou comes to Paris, she has quite different ideas from those of the family she works for as an au pair. Yet, her greatest concern is to leave behind her old life. Alena, another au pair, also has left much behind, but in contrast to her outgoing and loud colleague, she hardly speaks to any of the other girls and does not make friends in their language course. Holly first and foremost feels totally alone and only wants to be the friend of any of them. Geraldine, their teacher keeps them together and gathers information about the host families, especially the mothers. Such as Charlotte, who does not work but needs an au pair to comply with the social demands she perceives. Well, she actually does not have much time for her children as her marriage is beyond the point where anything could have put them together again and she prepares its final blow. For none of the inhabitants of the posh Parisian suburb anything is easy in the winter when the city is under terrorist attacks.

Amanda Bestor-Siegal has created quite a number of complex characters who are linked randomly even though they hardly share anything. The most striking aspect they all show is a feeling of being alone, being misunderstood by the world and questioning the decisions they have made. “The Caretakers” is about people who do not really take care, who cannot take care as they are not at ease with themselves. They try to comply with expectations they can never fulfil and are always at the fringe of total despair.

I found it easy to relate to some of the characters when their background is revealed and you get to understand how they could end up where they are at that point in their life. Showing the same event from different perspectives surely added to underline the complexity of their personalities and the mixed feelings they have. However, springing from one character to the next was a bit distracting and forced you to refocus again and again.

Throughout the novel there is also a mysterious aspect about a child’s death. Even though the quest for the answer of what happened could be felt, I could have done without that element as the focus was more on the characters and less on the mystery.

I enjoyed reading the novel due to the nuances in the characters’ emotions and minute differences in the cultures that are presented.

Martin Walker – The Shooting at Château Rock

Martin Walker – The Shooting at Château Rock

The death of an old sheep farmer does not seem too suspicious, he was suffering from heart problems and scheduled for getting a pacemaker. Yet, when his son and daughter find out that they have been disinherited and that their father had planned to move into a luxurious retirement home, this raises questions. Even more so when neither the insurance nor the notaire responsible for the contract can be gotten hold of. While Bruno Courrèges, Chief of Police of St. Denis, investigates, he also enjoys the Dordogne summer and especially the time with his friends, amongst them former musician Rod Macrae who lives in an old nearby castle and is waiting for his children to spend some time there. Bruno is fond of the two now grown-ups and quite surprised when gets to know Jamie’s girl-friend: Galina Stichkin, daughter of a superrich oligarch and close friend of the Russian president.

The 15th case for the amiable French policeman again offers the pleasant atmosphere of the southern French countryside with a lot of talk about the historical heritage of the region and even more about the local food and the best way to enjoy it. What starts with a suspicious case of foul play and thus seems to be quite in line with the former novels, quickly, however, turns into a highly political plot covering debatable recent affairs and bringing the big political picture to the small community. Therefore, “The Shooting at Château Rock” isn’t just a charming cosy crime novel but rather a complex political mystery.

There are several reasons why one can adore the Bruno, Chief of Police series. On the one hand, you will be never disappointed when you like to delve into the French cuisine and learn something new about the Dordogne regions rich nature and food. On the other hand, this is surely not the place for fast-paced action with a lot of shootings and deaths. The plots centre around the people and some very basic motives for their deeds – as expected, all to be uncovered by Bruno.

What I liked most this time was how Walker combined a petty crime – if one can call a cold-blooded murder a petty crime – with the global organised crime which operates in the financial sector just as in politics and is long beyond being controlled by official security agencies. He convincingly integrates real life events which shook the public and will ever remain notes in the history books of where mankind simply failed to protect civilians from underground forces with their very own agenda.

Another perfect read for some summer escape to the French countryside.

Gabrielle Levy – The Insomniac Society

Gabrielle Levy – The Insomniac Society

What a wonderful idea, not to sleep anymore. Yet, if it happens too often or you spend too much time lying awake in bed, it becomes insomnia and can even be pretty frightening. Thus, Claire, Jacques, Michèle, Lena and Hervé become a therapeutical insomniac group lead by specialist Hélène to find sleep again. It is due to quite diverse reasons that the five of them spend their nights roaming. Hervé is stressed out by his job, Lena misses her father, a former baker who always got up very early in the morning, Michèle is haunted by the children she lost and Jacques by a fatal mistakes that happened months ago. Claire is just fed up with her whole life, her job, her relationship, her living in small village outside Paris. The five strangers quickly become a small but fond community not only united by their inability to sleep.

Even though all of the characters are at a critical point in their life where they are confronted with making tremendous and far-reaching decisions and where they have to confront inconvenient truths of themselves and their lives, Gabrielle Levy’s novel nevertheless has to offer some feel-good factor. I adored the five patients from the start, they are drawn with so much care and love that you simply cannot not like them. They are ordinary people, people you can meet anywhere, at work, in the stairwell, on the street, but they immediately develop a bond due the fact they form a brotherhood in suffering.

Beautifully written, I simply floated through the novel enjoying sharing some time with the small group who meet as strangers and whom you leave as friends. The author wonderfully captured those small moments, hazardous encounters that can make a difference in life.

Jonathan Coe – Mr Wilder and Me

Jonathan Coe – Mr Wilder and Me

With her twin daughters about to leave the family nest, Calista has to reassess her life. Before focussing on raising the girls, she had a career in the film business as a composer which started by sheer coincidence. She still can well remember the events of 1977 when she met director Billy Wilder in LA and was later invited to work as a translator during his shooting of Fedora on the Greek island of Corfu. The weeks there changed her life forever, not only can she see behind the facade of the glamourous film business, but this is also herself turning from innocent girl to adult woman.

When I first happened to read one of Jonathan Coe’s novels, I was totally flashed by his narration and wondered how this author could have gone unnoticed for such a long time. It is no surprise then that also his latest novel “Mr Wilder and Me” was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me which I relished from the first to the last line.

“This was how Mr Wilder liked to work. He liked a busy, gregarious set with lots of people watching from the sidelines: reporters, photographers, hangers-on, passers-by. It was one of the sources of his energy.“

Even though the story tells Calista’s coming-of-age story, it is much more an homage paid to one of the greatest directors of all times. Calista is a wonderful choice to observe the already elderly film maker, with her fresh and naive eye, she can watch him closely without being distracted by the name he has acquired. She is timid and shy, but also sensitive which allows her to see through his public image and understand why Fedora is especially important to him.

“We had both come to the same realization: the realization that what we had to give, nobody really wanted any more.”

His time is already over, a new generation of directors is about to take over and financing the film has been all but easy, yet, he has one last mission to accomplish which lies much more in his family history than in his artistic creativity. The film has been called old-fashioned and from the distance of four decades, one can surely say that it marks the end of an era.

Apart from the plot, it is first of all the atmosphere which is striking. No matter where and at what time of her life, Calista’s mood and often contradictory thoughts and emotions a strongly present and lead the narration. It is not the big drama or event which mark the action, but rather the slow change within the protagonist and her constant careful reassessment of herself. It is a book to read slowly and to simply enjoy.

Sanaë Lemoine – The Margot Affair

sanae lemoine the margot affair
Sanaë Lemoine – The Margot Affair

It has always been like this: her father would visit them every other day, sometimes they did not hear of him for weeks. But when he opened the door, he was there completely for Margot Louve and her mother Anouk. No holidays together, no show up at school events, he only belonged to their private life and for the world outside their Paris apartment, there simply was no father. Nobody knew who he was because everybody knew him. He was a public man, a well-known politician and the husband of another woman. When Margot meets a journalist, the idea of going public with their story pops up, thus forcing him to finally decide between the two lives and families. She is sure that he loves her and her mother much more than his actual wife and therefore, she sets in motion a chain of events with an outcome she would never have imagined.

Sanaë Lemoine’s story of course immediately reminds the reader of the former French president Mitterrand’s double life which he only revealed shortly before his death thus making Mazarine Pingeot suddenly one of the most famous daughters of the country. The author does not try to hide the parallels, she even mentions and integrates the real life events in her novel thus underlining also the differences between the two. Written from the daughter’s perspective, she convincingly gives the voice to a young woman full of insecurities and marked by her quite naturally limited understanding of her parents’ affair.

I totally adored the first part of the novel which focuses on Margot and her relationship with her father. She does not question her life and the fact that she can never talk about who her father is, knowing that he loves her deeply is enough for herself and the arrangements also seems to work well for her mother. When the two of them accidentally encounter her father’s wife, something in her is set in motion and it only needs a little pushing by a journalist to develop her fatal plot. She is too young to foresee the scope of her action and what the possible outcomes are.

In the second part, unfortunately, the author lost me a bit with the shift of the focus. Margot is fascinated by a woman a couple of years her senior and the journalist’s wife. Brigitte is a strong contrast to her always distanced and rather cold and controlled mother and fills some kind of emotional gap that opened in her life. For the reader it is quite obvious that she is to a certain extent lured on to destruction and falls prey to the reckless woman. Even though the development between them is well portrayed and slowly moves towards the final blow, Margot lost a bit of her charming personality for me and the reflective and thoughtful young woman turns into a naïve and emotionally dependent girl which I did not really like to follow anymore that much.

A psychologically interesting novel about relationships and emotional needs of children and their parents, but also a study of how the choices of life you make always will have an impact on other people, too.

Olivier Adam – Les roches rouges

olivier adam les roches rouges
Olivier Adam – Les roches rouges

Leila aime Antoine, Antoine aime Leila. Mais Leila est mariée à Alex qui ne va certainement pas partager son épouse et mère de leur fils avec quelqu’un d’autre. Quand Alex blesse Antoine gravement, celui-ci et Leila savent qu’ils ni peuvent et ni veulent continuer ainsi, une affaire clandestine, toujours en peur, toujours cachés. Mais, ils savent aussi qu’il leur faut parler franchement comme tous les deux ont menti à l’autre. Antoine n’est pas musicien et il n’a que 18 ans, Leila n’a pas 26 ans, mais 21 et soudain, il se retrouvent en fuite ne sachant où aller. Loin de Paris, ils passent quelques jours de joie sans peur, mais leur petit bonheur ne va pas durer longtemps.

Olivier Adam raconte l’histoire en alternant les perspectives de Leila et d’Antoine. Ainsi, on sait ce qu’ils ressentent et, beaucoup plutôt que les personnages, on connaît leurs secrets et tout ce qu’ils ont caché l’un de l’autre. Avant tout, c’est l’histoire de deux jeunes, majeurs de l’âge, mais enfants à l’intérieur. Tous les deux ont fait des expériences qui les ont fait dérailler de vie, perdre de vue leurs buts et rêves, et aussi perdre un peu la motivation de vie. Ensemble, ils commencent à regagner du courage, mais ni l’un ni l’autre sache comment ça se fait: vivre une vie tout à fait normale, aller au travail, renter le soi, aimer son conjoint, parfois partir en vacances. C’est cette vie simple dont ils rêvent.

J’ai aimé suivre le destin des deux jeunes qui sont tombés dans une situation dans le vouloir et sans pouvoir empêcher le pire. Il est clair du début que leur petite affaire ne va pas se terminer en bonheur, ils ne sont pas ceux qui le bonheur croise par hasard. Ce qui est vraiment dur à supporter c’est qu’il y aurait eu des possibilités de les soutenir dans la vie, de prévenir le chaos dans lequel ils se trouvent, de les aider à atteindre leur buts simples et modestes.

Une histoire qui donne à réfléchir, racontée d’un ton mélancolique qui révèles les faiblesses et les vulnérabilités de jeunes gens entre être enfant et adulte.

Mahir Guven – Older Brother

Mahir Guven – Older Brother

They are neither French, nor the typical Arabs you find in Paris who mainly come from the former colonies in the Maghreb countries. So no wonder the two brothers who grow up without their mother do not belong anywhere. Their father left Syria in the hope of a better life for his kids, but the older of his sons got in trouble early, only the younger one who works as a nurse in a hospital seems to have a promising future. Yet, the feeling of being unable to fulfil his dreams – becoming a real doctor, being treated like the French – throws him off the track. With a Muslim humanitarian organisation, he hopes to do something useful with his life at least and leaves the country for Syria and the war. Three years after abominable conditions leave their mark and when he returns, he is not only the same young man he was before anymore but he also has a mission to accomplish.

“We used to just be Syrians. Well, he was Syrian, and we were Maghrebins, Syrians, sometimes French, occasionally Breton; it depended who we were hanging out with. In real life, until the war in Syria, we were all more just banlieusards than anything else. But since the war, everyone’s been calling themselves Muslim.”

Mahir Guven portrays two possible ways of dealing with an undoubtedly highly demanding situation. No matter how much effort Europeans put into welcoming refugees and migrants of all kinds, societies are not easy to actually enter. The boys have a French mother and a Syrian father, thus by nature, do not completely belong anywhere. This makes them not only fragile and prone to all kinds of delinquencies, but also perceptible to questionable ideologies which on the surface seem to provide answers neither the family nor the society can offer.

The debut novel gives the young men not only a voice, but also the reader a chance to look into their heads and get an understanding of their feelings and lacking sense of belonging. It also shows that it is not inevitably the family, the friends or the milieu someone lives in which determine about their life. There are always options, decisions are made and even if you opt for one road, this does not obligatorily have to be a one-way street. Second, the terrorists who threaten our peaceful life are not always stupid idiots, but the intelligent ones who simply were refused their share of happiness and a chance in life.

I was immediately immersed in the novel which is written in a lively and authentic tone. But first and foremost, I find it highly relevant to read about these kinds of perceptions and feelings, by far too long other voices have domineered the discourse and if we want to live up to our ideals, we need to listen to them, too.

Jean-Philippe Blondel – La grand escapade

Jean-Philippe Blondel – La grand escapade

Le Paris de l’année 1975 est bien différent de celui d’aujourd’hui. La petite communauté du groupe scolaire Denis-Diderot maintient encore l’image de la famille classique et tout marche bien en conformité avec les règles établies depuis toujours. Mais, peu à peu, la façade commence à avoir des fissures, ce sont avant tout les femmes qui commencent à se demander si la vie telle quelle se présente est vraiment ce dont elles rêvaient et celle qu’elles veulent mener. L’introduction de classes mixtes dans l’école alors n’est que le début de changements profonds qui, principalement, circulent autour des femmes.

Jean-Philippe Blondes a créé un microcosme qui – vu du dehors – fonctionne parfaitement et représente un idéal traditionnel. Les familles avec leurs gamins vivent une vie tranquille qui n’est pas perturbée de n’importe quoi. En regardant derrière ce portrait public, une autre image se présente. Les femmes ont le droit de travailler – mais seulement dans la maternelle, être institutrice, ça, c’est bien, mais prof en CM 2, c’est tout à fait autre chose, une tâche pour un homme certainement. Cela ne les empêche pas de rêver et d’imaginer une autre vie.

« On a vécu mai 68, même si on avait déjà la trentaine bien sonné et si on ne comprenait pas toutes les revendications des étudiants. Le monde occidental vit des transformations sociales et sexuelles qui remettent en cause l’ordre établi (…) »

La petite communauté a encore bien de pas à faire, mais c’est le début. Comme les autres livres de Jean-Philippe Blondel, j’ai bien aimé lire celui-ci. C’est avant tout son ton narratif que j’adore. Il y a une légèreté et une gaieté qui permet à l’auteur d’appuyer sur la chanterelle sans être trop dur ou malin. Ainsi, il fait le portrait d’un moment décisif au niveau de la société mais aussi au niveau personnel – c’est bien dans cette année-là que les gamins progressent de l’enfance à l’adolescence, le moment où ils perdent la naïveté et la confiance que tout finira bien.

Eva Kopp – Celle qui dérange

Eva Kopp – Celle qui dérange

Héloïse, trentenaire qui habite à Toulouse et travaille comme aide-soignante, vit une vie joyeuse  et sans soucies. Mais, non, ce n’est pas vrai. Elle est célibataire et quoiqu’elle rencontre plein d’hommes, elle n’a pas encore trouvez celui avec qui passer la vie. C’est bien pour une nuit, mais, c’est tout. Avec son amie Kelly, elle fréquente les bars pour oublier le côté triste de leur vie avec plein d’alcool. Un jour, sa vie s’arrête brusquement: c’est son père qu’elle voit sur Internet. C’est l’homme qui a quitté Héloïse et sa mère quand elle a eu seulement six ans. Grâce aux moyens électroniques, elle commence à collectionner des informations pour enfin le confronter et pour comprendre ce qui se passait environ trente ans auparavant.

« Celle qui dérange » offre un tas d’aspects intéressants, c’est ce qui m’a attiré immédiatement. Une jeune femme oscillant entre liberté et le désir de trouver sa tendre moitié, qui a un travail exigeant qui la confronte aussi avec la mort et, bien sûr, le fait de tomber sur son père inconnu à l’improviste, tout cela a promis un roman intéressant.

Comme l’histoire est plutôt courte, il n’y a pas trop de possibilité pour la protagoniste d’évoluer et de progresser. C’est une chose que je trouve vraiment dommage comme c’est ce qu j’adore avant tout, de voir ce que fait un événement comme celui de retrouver son père après tant d’années avec un personnage. D’un autre côté, il y a plein de passage qui m’ont fait sourire, c’est avant tout le caractère de Kelly qui a réussi cela. En gros, un roman court amusant mais sans profondeur psychologique.