Delicacy: A Novel Paperback – Jan 27 2012
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“Delicate, funny, offbeat, and subtle . . . Foenkinos paces the novel well, breaking it up with songs, lists, footnotes, and other formal elements reminiscent of Nick Hornby or Rick Moody yet making them his own.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Lighthearted and offbeat, [DELICACY] serves up a mostly frothy dish of romance, lost love, new hope, and typically Gallic sensibilities . . . [a] thoughtful, character-driven novel.” (Booklist)
“A more whimsical, less knowing variation on David Nicholls’s blockbuster One Day . . .immensely likeable, unexpectedly compelling.” (Irish Times)
“An extraordinary combination of emotional depth and lightness of touch that sometimes approaches the whimsical without ever tipping over into the twee.” (Sydney Morning Herald)
Foenkinos infuses the perfect amount of humor into this unorthodox love story . . . . His prose conjures up the comic neurosis of Woody Allen . . .A delicious chocolate truffle of romance.” (Washington Post)
From the Back Cover
Natalie and François are the perfect couple, and perfectly happy. But after François dies suddenly, only seven years into their still blissful marriage, the widowed Natalie erects a fortress around her emotions into which no one can gain access. Until the most unlikely candidate appears: Markus, Natalie’s Swedish, geeky, and unassuming coworker.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I always love a well written book, and this one delighted me with its refreshing style and word choices that kept me reading phrases and sentences out loud to my husband. Since this was a translation from the French, I found myself wondering how the original could possibly work as well as this! Delicacy reeled me in from the first words, and never disappointed me right through the last sentence.
Plot is not the point of this short novel, which makes it unlikely that it will repeat that popular success in the United States. Which is unfortunate, because this book successfully explores the emotional lives of its characters. As a nation we in the United States are addicted to the plot, to the shifts and plunges of a story. And for those in search of that adrenalin hit, this book will disappoint. But it has definite pleasures, and those linger much longer than the mere attraction of a storyline.
Start with the title: delicacy. It is a word not used much in daily life, an old-fashioned word. But appealing, intriguing, somewhat remote and even mysterious. But easy to pass over as a book title.
The gentle narrative arc of this book concerns Natalie, a beautiful woman in her twenties and thirties who hesitantly falls in love and marries Francois. He is killed in a bicycle accident. Francois in her grief buries herself in her work for the Paris division of a Swedish research firm where she navigates the relationships with her boss, Charles, and a subordinate, Marcus. And that is about it for the plot.
It is in the examination of the nuances of emotions and desire that this book excels. While the plot is thin, the intricacies of interior dialog and the great space given characters to think and react is highly unusual in current bestseller fiction. When Marcus and Natalie awkwardly stumble through their individual protective shells in search of emotional stability, the descriptions are nuanced, unusual and yet the reader understands the narrative consistency and fidelity to what we have earlier learned of these characters.
In life people don't usual move briskly from point A to B in a straight line, but in fiction the author rarely can be bothered to slow the plot sufficiently to explore the worlds of indecision and false starts that often accompany that A-B journey. This author reminds the reader that the journey itself, rather than the plot point where it ends, is the important part of life.
If you want someone to understand who you are, your essential self, would you hand that person your resume, or tell them a story? A meandering, delicate story that tells a truth about you beyond the facts of your life. This book does an excellent job of this, of just this.
Oh...and a warning. This book perfectly conveys the insidious gossiping and schoolyard bullying that can go on in an office setting, where there is limited privacy and certain workers see it as their full-time job to expose the private lives of co-workers. Natalie and Marcus are caught in this web of office gossip in a manner way too realistic for the comfort of this particular reader.
The translation is fine, but given the nuances of thought and emotions that make up the core of the book, I found certain sentences clunky, awkward and these often felt like translation deficiencies. "Charm took effect, and even progressed." "Because nothing wears you out more than living under the sensual dictates of beauty set in stone."
There are chapters with factual information alternating with the storyline of the novel. Natalie is listening to a song and the next chapter is a listing of the lyrics. Or there is a discussion of food allergies followed by a chapter on food allergies. And there are a few footnotes supposedly elucidating the text. For example when Natalie is eating soup the note states "We haven't been able to obtain any details regarding the exact nature of that soup." Both the factual chapters and footnotes read like affectations, as though the author lacked confidence in his story and needed to add these elements to add bulk and 'sophistication'. The novel would have been better without these unnecessary decorations.
There are subtle nuances, cultural relics that no matter how accurate, exact or excellent the translation, the translated text would not be able to capture.
I enjoy the book so much I am thinking of learning French so that I can appreciate the original text better.
Perhaps because it was originally in French, the translation can't help but retain the heat, the texture that defines what is French. Think French, you think French cuisine, macaron and dogs (in France, dogs are given equivalent status as human; they can seat in the plane, take train and sit as equal in restaurant) and the space or the time to breathe (in Singapore we take in gulps; `no time man, got to work').
Natalie is beautiful and intelligent. Life was perfect for her until her husband was killed in a traffic accident. She used work to numb the pain of loss and years later for no apparent reason, she kissed her colleague Markus impulsively. Markus wasn't the ideal novel type of `tall, dark and handsome'. Instead he was variably described as `ugly, `no body to look at', `limp as noodle'. Charles, Natalie's boss adores Natalie but was spurned and couldn't understand what Natalie sees in Markus. There is no great plot in the essentially book about finding romance in the strangest of places.
The chapters were short and interspersed with snippets such as text messages, song lyrics, train schedules, dictionary definitions, and excerpts from screenplays, facts and lists. The snippets were like cleansing your palette in wine tasting and fine dining. It allows you to move between courses (chapters) and appreciate the complex and varied flavours better.
The book is delightfully written with humour, wit and full of poetic turn of phrases. It is not meaty but delicate like macarons - beautifully layered with the flavours marrying into each other unobtrusively
Days after reading it, I am still subconsciously pressing between my tongue and soft palate to find the remnants.