The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos (Walter Presents Blog Tour)

A library populated entirely by rejected books? Such was Richard Brautigan’s brainchild in one of his novels, and after his suicide a fan made it a reality. Now based in Vancouver, Washington, the Brautigan Library houses what French novelist David Foenkinos calls “the world’s literary orphans.” In The Mystery of Henri Pick, he imagines what would have happened had a French librarian created its counterpart in a small town in Brittany and a canny editor discovered a gem of a bestseller among its dusty stacks.

Delphine Despero is a rising Parisian editor who’s fallen in love with her latest signed author, Frédéric Koskas. Unfortunately, his novel The Bathtub is a flop, but he persists in writing a second, The Bed. On a trip home to Brittany so Frédéric can meet her parents, he and Delphine drop into the library of rejected books at Crozon and find a few amusing turkeys – but also a masterpiece. The Last Hours of a Love Affair is what it says on the tin, but also incorporates the death of Pushkin. The name attached to it is that of the late pizzeria owner in Crozon. His elderly widow and middle-aged daughter had no idea that their humble Henri had ever had literary ambitions, let alone that he had a copy of Eugene Onegin in the attic.

The Last Hours of a Love Affair becomes a publishing sensation – for its backstory more than its writing quality – yet there are those who doubt that Henri Pick could have been its author. The doubting faction is led by Jean-Michel Rouche, a disgraced literary critic who, having lost his job and his girlfriend, now has all the free time in the world to research the foundation of the Library of Rejects and those who deposited manuscripts there. Just when you think matters are tied up, Foenkinos throws a curveball.

This was such a light and entertaining read that I raced through. It has the breezy, mildly zany style I associate with films like Amélie. Despite the title, there’s not that much of a mystery here, but that suited me since I pretty much never pick up a crime novel. Foenkinos inserts lots of little literary in-jokes (not least: this is published by Pushkin Press!), and through Delphine he voices just the jaded but hopeful attitude I have towards books, especially as I undertake my own project of assessing unpublished manuscripts:

She had about twenty books to read during August, and they were all stored on her e-reader. [Her friends] asked her what those novels were about, and Delphine confessed that, most of the time, she was incapable of summarizing them. She had not read anything memorable. Yet she continued to feel excited at the start of each new book. Because what if it was good? What if she was about to discover a new author? She found her job so stimulating, it was almost like being a child again, hunting for chocolate eggs in a garden at Easter.

Great fun – give it a go!

My rating:

 

(Originally published in 2016. Translation from the French by Sam Taylor, 2020.)

My thanks to Poppy at Pushkin Press for arranging my e-copy for review.

 

(Walter Presents, a foreign-language drama streaming service, launched in the UK (on Channel 4) in 2016 and is also available in the USA, Australia, and various European countries.)

I was delighted to be part of the Walter Presents blog tour. See below for details of where other books and reviews have featured.

24 responses

  1. Like you, I’m not a crime reader but I enjoyed this one, too, although I’m a wee bit confused as I reviewed it last year. Is the whole series being relaunched?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure! This was one of those random Twitter calls for participants, and I already knew I wanted to read Henri Pick so volunteered for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, this does sound fun. And how funny to see another multicoloured blog tour image, it must be a Thing, as my British Library Women Writers one came like that, too.

    I have a new book serendipity to share on my blog in a few days’ time – FOUR books in a row with a loose, episodic structure, jumping from scene to scene noticeably with lacunae in between, narrative and physical spaces on the page, three of them were novellas, so maybe that’s a feature of the form (though one wasn’t)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s quite a lot to find in a row! I have one novella that’s like that on the go at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love Brautigan’s writing so I must confess I’ve been very tempted by this…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never read any Brautigan, but I love that the library of rejects was inspired by a real story, and that the books are classified according to “The Mayonnaise System” after another of his novels!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We have this at my library and I’ll have to give it a look!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hooray! It was light respite from some of the more serious books on my pile.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Goodness, that Brautigan-inspired library is practically in my backyard, or at least on my way to Portland and I’ve never heard of it! I can see a field trip sometime in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, fantastic! The novel, unfortunately, misidentifies it as being in “Vancouver, Canada” (understandable since that’s the Vancouver everyone’s heard of), but I knew better after doing a tiny bit of research.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I really enjoyed this one, and I’m glad it is getting more exposure.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I haven’t read this Foenkinos but the two I’ve read had the same engaging writing and story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s good to hear. I’d read more by him!

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  8. I think this sounds quite delightful. And I love Amelie. Even more as a re-view.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw it several times back in the day, but I daren’t watch it nowadays for fear it would have dated.

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    2. It does sound delightful! I have never managed to watch Amélie. I bought myself the DVD and there it sat in the wrapper on the shelf for years and years. Then our DVD player broke, my husband moved the DVDs to a box in the attic and we gave away the shelf. I feel like I’ve missed out on so many must-see films. I wonder if it’s on Netflix. But then, all those books!

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      1. I hardly ever watch TV shows or films these days (or read newspapers or magazines, or listen to podcasts, or watch BookTube, or any of these other ways bookish people interact with the literary world) because it takes time away from the actual reading of actual books.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That explains how you’re so productive!

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      3. Indeed. That + no kids + no TV + no smartphone.

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      4. What, no smartphone? 😱 It’s my camera, my notepad and where I often write drafts of blogposts in the middle of the night. But so far the one thing I have avoided is joining Instagram because I’d probably never leave. The time I spent scrolling on my laptop has shifted to the phone and reduced, so now I only use my laptop for translations, editing blogposts and working on spreadsheets. It means the cats can sit on my lap, too, never a factor to be underestimated!

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      5. No, I’ve resisted, even though I know it can be a very useful tool that replaces many other things (camera, etc.). Ironically, I do actually use Instagram, but from my PC!

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      6. Now, that’s the one thing I have resisted, but I get the impression it can be a useful tool, so I may join at some point. By which time something else will probably be the in thing.

        Time spent on other things waxes and wanes with the seasons and my inclination. Now it’s dark and cold, my inclination is very much to curl up like a cat and read, perchance to blog.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. TikTok is the latest thing, dontcha know? 😉

        Winter is a great time for curling up with/like a cat and reading. Then again, every season is!

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I reserve the right to opt out of TikTok and Snapchat.

        Like

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