Tag Archives: The Mystery of Henri Pick

The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos (transl. Sam Taylor): Tailor made

Cover imageDavid Foekinos’ The Mystery of Henri Pick marks the beginning of a collaboration between publishers Pushkin Press and Channel 4’s Walter Presents, a streaming service which provides a good deal of my TV entertainment with its subtitled European drama. Even without that, I’d have been interested in this book whose blurb promised a novel about people with ‘a deep love of books’. A young editor, the rising star at her publishers and newly in love, takes her boyfriend home to meet her parents and discovers a library devoted to rejected manuscripts.

Convinced of their brilliance, Delphine has fallen in love with both Frédéric and his first novel which, sadly, has resoundingly flopped. He moves in with her, working on his second book from their bed while her career glitters ever more brightly. Delphine takes Frédéric to meet her beloved parents in Brittany on her annual holiday, visiting the library for rejected manuscripts set up by a reclusive librarian, now dead, and still maintained by his assistant. They pick their way through the many manuscripts left by authors who’ve faced umpteen rejections, excited by the discovery of The Last Hours of a Love Affair by Henri Pick. Delphine tracks down Pick’s widow, persuading her to overcome her incredulity at the idea that her husband, far too busy at their pizza parlour to read, should not only have written a book but one which Delphine clearly considers a masterpiece. Delphine takes the manuscript back to Paris to publish which she does to much acclaim having convinced her publishing house that it should head their spring list. Before long, Pick’s novel is a bestseller, his widow and their daughter find themselves on TV and Crozon is firmly on the French literary map but not everyone is convinced. Jean-Michel Rouche, a journalist whose career is on the slide, smells a rat and spots an opportunity.

He still felt the same shiver of pleasure at reading a novel before the rest of the world

Foenkinos’ novel is pleasingly anchored in bookishness, gently satirising the publishing world in what turns into a literary detective story whose playful style reminded me a little of Antoine Laurain’s novels. The effects of sudden fame on a small town are neatly explored: a marriage is rejuvenated while cracks appear in another; memories are revisited and a love story revealed. The narrative bowls along, its nicely tension taut. I wasn’t entirely sure about the ending but this is a spoiler-free zone – I’ll leave that up to you to decide. All in all, the perfect inaugural title for this joint publishing project: a mystery in translation, echoing the many crime series streamed by Walter Presents, which comes with references to Pushkin, the publisher’s name. And I gather there’s a film of Foekinos’ novel, too.

Pushkin Press: London 2020 9781782275824 288 pages Paperback

Books to Look Out For in May 2020

Cover imageSpare a thought for poor publishers who’ve been wrestling with the nightmare of rejigging their schedules to give their books the best possible exposure now that bookshops are shut thanks to the corona virus. Poor authors, too, left in limbo with all that nervous excitement at the prospect of the longed-for publication day now delayed. The result of all that is a much-depleted new title post, more like a December preview than May.

Unusually for me, I’ve already read three of the four remaining May novels beginning with Rebecca Dinnerstein Knight’s Hex, a six-cornered love story with a botanical twist. It takes the form of three notebooks written over six months by Nell Barber addressed to her advisor, Dr Joan Kallas, for whom she’s conceived a passion without entirely recognising its nature. Five years ago, I reviewed The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein, as she was known then, describing it as ‘a quirky bit of escapism’, a description which fits Hex nicely, too.

I’ve also already read Lily King’s Writers & Lovers, unable to resist Elizabeth Strout’s description of it as ‘Gorgeous’. This warm, witty novel is about a young woman, lost in grief and mired in debt, with one sure thing in her life: the novel she’s been working on for six years. I thoroughly enjoyed it – one of those satisfyingly absorbing books you can wrap yourself up in and forget about the world, much needed right now.

I’ve yet to read Catherine Lacey’s Pew in which the eponymous character wakes up in a church unsure of their identity, gender or otherwise. Pew won’t speak, unable or unwilling to answer the many increasingly strident questions put to them by the town’s people. ‘As the days pass, their insistent clamour will build from a murmur to a roar, as both the innocent and the guilty come undone in the face of Pew’s silence’ says the blurb of what sounds rather like a fable. I’m not at all sure about this one but I’ve enjoyed Lacey’s previous novels, Nobody is ever Missing and The Answers.

I’m finishing with the book which will launch what looks like an interesting collaboration between Walter Presents, All Cover image4’s excellent subtitled TV stream, and Pushkin Press, publishers of very fine foreign fiction. David Foenkinos’ The Mystery of Henri Pick is set in a small Brittany town whose library is full of rejected manuscripts one of which is published by a young editor to great acclaim but it seems its author is dead causing a great deal of suspicion. ‘By turns farcical and moving, The Mystery of Henri Pick is a fast-paced comic mystery enriched by a deep love of books – and of the authors who write them’ says the blurb. Having read it, I’d say it’s the perfect choice for the Walter Presents/Pushkin Press partnership.

That’s it for May’s new novels. The smallest handful, I’m afraid. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Reviews of Hex, Writers & Lovers, and The Mystery of Henri Pick to follow shortly. Paperbacks soon, and let’s hope there are more of them…