A French Life, By Jean-Paul Dubois, trans. Linda Coverdale

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The Independent Culture

Grief is the bedrock of this comic, and often outrageous, memoir of growing up in post-war France. Paul Blic, in Toulouse, comes of age in the Fifth Republic. The day that de Gaulle becomes president, his beloved elder brother Vincent dies. From then on every development in Paul's personal history becomes linked to the talking heads on the box – erotic revelations, illnesses and school reports coinciding with JFK's death and the accession wars of Giscard and Mitterrand.

The childhood chapters, with memories of a landlady who liked to watch him bounce naked on the bed, are shot through with a preternatural pessimism – a melancholy that informs his later leftist politics and his marriage. Dubois's impressively unflowery account abandons the usual clichés to give a highly flavoured portrait of his impassive motherland.