Book Review: French Rhapsody by Antoine Laurain.

french-rhapsody-antoine-laurainType: Paperback, 232 pages

Publisher: Gallic Books, October 11, 2016

Setting: Paris, France

Original Title: Rhapsodie française

French Rhapsody by Antoine Laurain was, by far, the last of the short novels that I’ve read for the year. Sad to say, I didn’t feel that it was as great as The Red Notebook and The President’s Hat, also by the same author. I think it was due to the fact that half the book wasn’t really about music and it led me to believe that it did. After all, The Red Notebook was really about a red notebook that Laurent Letellier found in a woman’s lost handbag and The President’s Hat had been about a black felt hat that President Mitterrand had left behind at a restaurant and made its travels around Paris at the hands of various people who found it. I half expected French Rhapsody to be the same, with the band, The Holograms, perhaps regrouping at a later stage to perform once again, together.

Turned out that it wasn’t meant to be.

Back cover synopsis from Goodreads:

Middle-aged doctor Alain Massoulier has received a life-changing letter—thirty-three years too late.

Lost in the Paris postal system for decades, the letter from Polydor, dated 1983, offers a recording contract to The Holograms, in which Alain played lead guitar. Back then The Holograms had believed in their cutting-edge sound. However, the music industry remained indifferent, and eventually the band split up, each going their own way.

Alain is overcome by nostalgia, and is tempted to track down the members of the group. But in a world where everything and everyone has changed . . . where will his quest take him?

Antoine Laurain’s new novel combines his trademark charm with a satirical take on modern France.

Because as I read on, I discovered that the middle part of the book started getting a little more political than I fancied and it made me actually stop reading the book for awhile. I focused on The Vacationers to give myself a break and maybe a different perspective in terms of approaching the book. True enough, it did and when I returned to Laurain’s book, I managed to continue reading and finally finishing it.

The story opened with Alain Massoulier, a dentist, receiving a letter that he believed could have changed the course of his life if he had only received it on time. Unfortunately for Alain, he had received it 33 years too late, and everyone involved in the letter had moved on with their lives and became successful individuals. Thus began a period of searching in Alain’s life to reconnect with the people of his youth. As is always the case, the manhunt came with strange yet wonderful (and sometimes uncalled for) consequences. The plot was a really unique one, complete with many twists and turns, peppered with “holy moly!” moments.

All the characters were most certainly not perfect but they were well-rounded individuals and were pretty convincing. The relationships between each of them were authentic, and the author just about manages to achieve the right amount of both tragedy and humour. I did like the relationship between Jean-Barnard Mazart (JBM) and Aurore though. Herein lies a little secret about them but I won’t spoil the surprise. The politics in the book captured two of the Holograms’ bandmates who have somehow ended up at the opposite ends of the political world, with Laurain’s narrative successfully detailing the tensions between left- and right-wing politics with insight and sensitivity.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. But that’s just me. I know that some of you may have read the book and loved it, but it didn’t strike a positive chord with me. Yet for all my grouchiness about the storyline, French Rhapsody was still a clever and quirky story. Yes, it was a delight to read because it’s a short novel, compared to the thicker and heavier books. And it was beautifully written, witty, funny and insightful book that fast readers like myself could swallow in one gulp.

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