In Reynard’s debut novel, a French businessman egotistically pursues wealth and sensual pleasures.
Michel Bodin, the spoiled only son of wealthy Parisian parents, grows up in the 1950s and ’60s with a “lust for experience,” which he continues to indulge throughout his life. As a young man, he expands the family decorating business, finding all sorts of scams and tax dodges to increase his riches, and marries Charlotte, who loves him deeply. They have three daughters and enjoy all that the high life has to offer—including its dangers, such as the frightening break-in to the couple’s home recounted in the book’s preface. The main character repeats “his often-aired simple view that there were only two kinds of people in the world, wolves or sheep, and that he was determined to be a wolf.” He justifies himself in many conversations by explaining that in France, the system is rigged in favor of entrenched interests, so selfishness is necessary. “Morality is an invention of those who don’t dare to get what they want,” he claims. Michel can treat his wife badly because, he says, women are “submissive once you have overcome their exterior defense.” As he reaches midlife, his obsessive quest for excitement may lead to his undoing. While the unbridled pursuit of sensuality by the rich and shameless might catch the interest of some, Reynard’s novel is too talky for long stretches (one character admits, “I must stop making speeches”). Little about Michel’s narcissism, sexism or moral turpitude encourages further reading. Tying his self-justifications to France’s politics, tax structure and cultural hypocrisies makes him no less loathsome.
A libertine novel for the modern age.