A best-selling French author with writer's block agonizes at a luxurious Italian resort in de Rosnay’s oddly static latest (The House I Loved, 2012, etc.).
The main action here consists of 29-year-old Nicolas Kolt sitting around feeling sorry for himself at the Gallo Nero off the Tuscan coast. Oh, sure, he’s rich and famous, thanks to his globally best-selling first novel, The Envelope. But that was published four years ago and was based on the true history of his enigmatic father. Without real-life inspiration to lean on, Nicolas is having a hard time coming up with a new book. Though he assures his anxious publisher that he's writing away, he’s mostly wasting time on social media, exchanging pornographic instant messages with a married woman in Germany, and being told off by old friends for having become lazy, selfish and spoiled. Readers will heartily agree as they endure Nicolas’ solipsistic musings about how much he misses his former love Delphine and how he should really call his mother, all the while checking his Facebook page to see if there are any new photos taken by an anonymous fan who's also vacationing at the Gallo Nero. The swanky setting is over-the-top enough for a Harold Robbins novel (ditto the Blackberry-enabled sex scenes), and de Rosnay’s way of demonstrating that Nicolas is a real writer is to show him watching the other guests, which might work if his observations ever went beyond superficial judgments. His 22-year-old girlfriend, Malvina, is a whiny bore, the extensive flashbacks not much more interesting as they limn Nicolas’ childhood, his father’s mysterious death and his discovery of previously unknown Russian roots. The climactic shipwreck that finally gives Nicolas new literary material is ridiculous but a relief; at least we won’t have to hear any more about his writer’s block.
Not that de Rosnay ever wrote literary fiction, but previous books like Sarah’s Key (2008) have more emotional substance than this.