The story of a French Everyman is told in this appealing 2004 novel, the first in English translation from a veteran journalist and fiction writer.
It traces 40-plus years in the life of its narrator-protagonist Paul Blick, whose experiences are paralleled with events in the world outside him and particularly the body politic, as Dubois sets them in the contexts of presidential administrations, beginning with Charles de Gaulle and concluding with Jacques Chirac. The source of Paul’s emotional coolness is convincingly located in such early traumas as the death of his older brother from peritonitis and the callous condescension of his wealthy paternal grandmother toward his mother’s humbler family. Thus are rebellious “leftist” impulses implanted in him, and we observe their reappearances throughout his youth at the time of the late-1960s student riots, rapidly truncated military service and (frequently hilarious) couplings with women who undertake to educate him sexually. After breaking up with “perfect” girlfriend Marie and while drifting through a time of “profound upheaval in the relationship between men and women”—the Sexual Revolution, n’est-ce pas?—Paul settles on rich, beautiful Anna Villandreux, herself a successful businesswoman. “Capitulating” to the bourgeois convention of marriage when she becomes pregnant, Paul weds this formidable Aphrodite, fathers two children and passively tolerates Anna’s “independence.” Reluctant to resume an abandoned teaching career, he works as a reporter for the magazine Sports Illustrés, owned by Anna’s father, before discovering the passion for photography that makes him rich when, now a “cine-ethnographer” who produces a lavishly beautiful volume, Trees of France, he seems at last a success. But adultery, midlife crisis, parents’ deaths and his daughter’s plunge into irreversible depression exact their toll—and Paul, indeed a microcosm of the world around him, retreats to become another Candide, patiently, stoically, tending his garden.
Part realistic novel, part high-class soap opera, and absorbingly readable from first page to last.