jeudi 29 mai 2008

When we unpacked the box, it was the bright red cover that first grabbed my attention. That, and the enigmatic face peeking out of the window. I flipped the book over and noted the many praises heaped upon the book by such authors as Penelope Lively, Karen Joy Fowler and Kim Edwards to name a few. I remember thinking to myself that it must be an interesting book.
A bit of research turned up a few things. In fact, Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe was originally published in French under the title Mangez-moi (Eat Me) to great acclaim. It is her sixth novel. Luckily for us Anglophone readers, it has now been translated in English.

It’s the story of Myriam, who at 43, decides to open a small restaurant. The story gradually unfolds in careful layers and slowly it becomes apparent that it is as much as story of redemption and new beginnings as much as it is about a restaurant. She comes to open a restaurant without knowing anything other than cooking. And because she has literally talked her way through the bank and suppliers, she is forced to live in the restaurant in order to conserve her ever dwindling resources.

The story’s theme of starting over after a grave misfortune is a universal one. Myriam’s character is a fully fleshed and sympathetic one. Her foibles are even endearing. Desarthe has a real talent for writing scenes that ring with the truth. There is one particularly memorable scene in the book which captures perfectly the double life that Myriam leads. She is caught between the actual universe which consists of what is going on in the restaurant and the virtual one which are what she receives in the post and is instantly lost in the labyrinth of drawers: “the forms and summonses crouched in terms that are barbaric…. and figures which always seem to accumulate in the same column, the debit column.” It evokes a sentiment that I’m sure we can all identify with. I for one can confess to often feeling as Myriam does, “like those parched landscapes where the depleted groundwater can no longer hold together the cracked soil, those sterile expanses cleaned out by summer storms but never actually slaked by them.” And her wondering plea why the money that comes into the till never reaches into that dark parched pipework, not even the tiniest droplet to quench the thirst of the paper monster, is another resounding element.
It is for this reason that Chez Moi can be a highly personal read. We can identify with her and as such root for her more deeply than we would in other redemptive stories.

3 commentaires:

Parisian Heart a dit…

Amazing! I work at a bookstore in Nashville, TN, USA. Yesterday, I came upon your blog via a link from Penelope Masson's French Word-A-Day blog (which I also found just yesterday). Today at work, I picked up this very book (Chez Moi) and turned to a co-worker and exclaimed, "Look at this cover!" Then tonight I logged onto your new page and saw this entry ... Remarkable, n'est-ce pas?

I love the French language and culture and miss Paris terribly. After a fifteen year absence (waaaaay too long!), I am looking at the possibility of coming for a visit in September. If this works out, I shall make an effort to visit the Red Wheelbarrow. :)

Parisian Heart a dit…

P.S. I feel like an idiot now! I was a bit "out of it" when I posted that! I said "Penelope (and should've included "Le") Masson's blog" when I meant to say "Kristin Espinasse's blog! I was looking at her picture and caption when I wrote it ... Please excuse me! I must've been more tired than I realized. ;)

Red Wheelbarrow a dit…

Ya that's pretty cool! Let me know what you think of the book after you've finished reading it.
No worries about the mix-up. And yes, 15 years away from Paris is way too long. It'd be great if you came to visit in September and even better if you came and visited RWB. We get a lot of visitors from all over and both Penelope and I enjoy meeting all of them. Plus, we can compare notes about working in the book industry! Hope to see you soon.