From Publishers Weekly
"I wanted to let myself drift gently on the surface of life, floating on my back until I wound up flat on my back six feet under." So reveals the narrator of this curious, rather cold little novella, a winner of the Prix Millepages and Graff's first book to be published in English. At 35, in perfect health, Antoine decides to spend the rest of his life at the Happy Days retirement home. Although he admits to having little taste for life and a certain "tendency to get a head start on the inevitable" (at 18, he bought his cemetery plot), Antoine's premature forfeiture of normal existence is a philosophical experiment, an "attempt to understand what an individual's life is, stripped of all its diversions, seen in the light of its denouement." When Mireille, a new resident with terminal cancer, arrives to spend her final days, Antoine-who has heretofore shuffled along, attending physical therapy, participating in group outings, befriending eccentric aging residents and occasionally sleeping with nurses-has his chance "to understand the extinction of life." Mireille accepts his attentions calmly, as long as he grants her final wish to visit the seashore. The two sneak away, and their journey sparks a mix of tenderness and frustration in both. Graff's static and articulate but inexplicable hero will inspire primarily the latter emotion in readers, with flashes of the former; moments of gorgeous prose leaven a sharp, dark and very French quasi-comedy about a man whose life revolves around death.
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At 18, when his peers are buying cars, Antoine withdraws his savings to buy a cemetery plot. At 35, he leaves his wife of 12 years and two children and uses an unexpected inheritance to move permanently to the Happy Days, a private retirement home, where he keeps up with "The Young and the Restless" in order to explain it to his fellow residents and finds sex with a nurse his placebo. He's neither "skipping life" nor "killing time"; he's simply devoting himself to trying to understand the human condition, the mystery of life. Then, for a closer view of death, he begins keeping company with Mireille, a new resident dying of cancer. But old and ill as she is, Mireille soon sees through Antoine's attendance and sets her own conditions, leading to a darkly humorous expedition during which Antoine gets more than he bargained for. Within the bizarre course of one man's life, Graff poses some of life's most basic philosophical questions, making this short, briskly paced novel a thought-provoking pleasure. Michele LeberCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved