The Most Beautiful Book in the World, By Eric-Emmanuel Schmidt trs Alison Anderson
Sunday 10 January 2010
Subtitled "Eight Novellas", this is actually a collection of longish short stories, around 20 pages apiece. Each story is based around a woman coping with some kind of crisis – adultery, a break-up, poverty, bereavement, senility – and each has an unexpectedly heart-warming end. Most are set in France in the present day; and they tend to start with a hook in the first line, pulling the reader in. ("To be honest, nothing would have happened if I hadn't changed my hairdresser.")
They are well-made stories, written with psychological insight and sympathy for the characters, with little in the way of literary flourishes, often covering decades, anatomising a life in a few pages. They put me in mind of the craft of Somerset Maugham.
The title does not sound easy to live up to – in fact it refers to the last story, where a group of women in a gulag smuggle out a hand-made book, written on cigarette papers, to their daughters. What's in it? You will have to read The Most Beautiful Book in the World to find out.
Arts & Ents blogs
Dennis Hopper's lost sixties photo album found
What are the best first lines in fiction?
EDL Girls: Don't Call Me Racist, BBC3 - TV review: EDL Angel gets into a right muddle
Russell Crowe's Noah banned in three Arab countries before worldwide premiere
Call The Midwife: Jessica Raine leaves in series three finale
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Pakistan vs Paul Smith: Sandal-wearers bemused by famed British designer's attempts to sell traditional Peshawari chappal-style shoes for the distinctly untraditional sum of £300
- 2 Family forced to flee home after discovering 'terrifying' nest of spiders in bananas
- 3 First Kiss: Filmmaker gets 20 strangers to make out on YouTube with awkward results
- 4 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 5 Bob Crow death: 'Admired by his members, feared by employers' - Tributes pour in for RMT union leader and 'working class hero' Bob Crow