Rouaud's novel won the Prix Goncourt in 1990, a prize remarkable for the fact that Rouaud was no career writer but a very humble newsstand vendor who'd never before published a word. The book is not quite a novel, more a rich memoir, but on the grounds of prose style alone (which comes over quite convincingly in Ralph Manheim's fine English version), its prize-worthiness is clear. One of the children of a modest family living in the rainy Loire valley narrates, drawn back to the family's aged, especially a grandfather and spinster aunt--who throw off eccentricity and force of character like catherine-wheels: the grandfather's driving habits in his hilariously inadequate 2CV; the aunt's pious familiarity with every conceivable saint; the horror of WW I's carnage that lives undiminishable in the hearts of the elders. Here, Rouaud's great gift, not unlike the film master Jean Renoir's, is for specificity and high relief: there are emotional lineages and comic dimensions to things as well as people: ``If we needed a screw, a nut, a tube of paste, a razor blade, a watch spring, a marble, a pin, a pencil, a paper clip, a coin with a hole in it (for use as a washer), or the tiny watchmaker's screwdriver that we used to tighten the hinges of our glasses, we had only to plunge into the biotrope between the china cupboard and the top of the sideboard and locate the glass hors d'oeuvres dish that has served as a bath for the little white garnet-billed mandarin birds which, we never found out why, had one after another been found dead in their cage.'' A lovely, savory book.