The risks of happiness

This is my review of Delicacy: Film Tie-in Edition by David Foenkinos.

Beautiful Nathalie, whose kneecaps alone make men swoon, has an idyllic marriage to handsome high-flier François, a burgeoning career in her own right, and the sense of proportion to rise above the jealousy of work colleagues. What could go wrong? Yet, "Such happiness can make you afraid". Disaster inevitably strikes. The rest of this light romance is the tale of Nathalie first failing to come to terms with sudden bereavement, then finding unlikely happiness with a man whom her scandalised colleagues regard as totally unworthy.

There is plenty of wry humour in this story, and some moving insights into grief, as when Nathalie is struck by the placement of a book mark: the pages before belong to the time when François was still alive, those after to when he ceased to exist – to such a degree that she might have imagined him.

Although David Foenkinos seems capable of writing what you might call "literary fiction", he seems to be playing to the gallery here with some gimmicky formulae, such as interspersing the main text with short chapters, some only a sentence in length, by way of digression. For instance, after a passing reference to astrology, Chapter 34 is a list of Nathalie's small work team – most of whom we never meet – and their star signs. On another occasion, after a character has punched someone, a "chapter" gives us the result of one of Mohammed Ali's matches.

More serious charges are that the somewhat two-dimensional characters seem to fall in love out of lust or emotional neediness, and that the author tends to tell us what we should think about them rather than reveal it.

This is an easy read in French with some useful idioms, but if French were my native language, I would not wish to spend time on "La délicatesse", nor would I bother with it in translation. It has lent itself to a light-weight film starring Audrey Tautou, but the fact I cannot remember how its plot varies from the original book speaks volumes.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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