Only the second novel by this distinguished French writer to be translated into English: An affectionate slice of provincial life captures the coming of age of a 20th-century soul.
Déon, now 94 years old, is the author of some 50 works and an “immortel” (a member of the Académie Française). He published his saga of the shaping of a young man between the two world wars—a rich if discursive immersion into Europe’s changing landscape—in 1975. The eponymous boy, named Jean by the couple who takes him in, grows up in a simple but honest home in Normandy, makes important friends and one or two enemies in the local community, and develops a set of values that will lend him stability when he leaves home on some eventful journeys. In 1936, at age 17, he travels to Italy, meeting en route a friendly Hitler Youth, a fascist Italian truck driver, a beguiling fraudster and a voracious female restaurateur. Other trips are similar voyages of discovery in a serendipitous education encompassing friendship, culture, morality and plenty of sex. Brightly descriptive, especially of the high life (characters are frequently seduced by glamorous motors cars: Bugattis, Hispano-Suizas, Bentleys), blessed with wit and a wryly intrusive authorial voice—though shadowed by memories of the Great War and intimations of the horrors to come—Déon’s spry, bittersweet ramble invites nostalgia for a lost era. A sequel will follow.
Mature, relaxed storytelling, balancing human nature with historical inevitability; a pleasure for traditionalists generally and Francophiles in particular.