The Mystery of Henri Pick

The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos – translated by Sam Taylor

Did a deceased Breton pizza chef, never known to pick up a book nor write so much as a birthday card his whole life, secretly pen a great novel? When a young couple (an ambitious editor and a fledgling author) discover Henri Pick’s opus in an eccentric Crozon library that stores rejected manuscripts, it’s a curious mystery that soon becomes a national phenomenon.

Strewn with references to Brautigan, Pushkin, Proust, Houellebecq and more, and depicting a fickle French publishing industry with bitterness and cheek in equal measure, the comedy here can be enjoyed by any voracious reader or budding writer. You’re never far from a droll observation like “Reading is a completely egotistical pleasure”, or “Writing is the only job in the world where you can stay under the duvet all day long and still claim to be working.”

Writing is the only job in the world where you can stay under the duvet all day long and still claim to be working.

With a wilfully obscure body of artistic work at its centre, a fitful plot and flashes of bluntly described lust, this reminded me most of Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions. Ultimately, it’s frothier than any Auster, and for me its cuteness wore very thin in the final stretch. But it’s a promising start to this series of translations from TV box set connoisseurs Walter Presents, in collaboration with Pushkin Press — both very reliable curators of eclectic foreign fictions. It’s also, if I’m honest, a small consolation for this struggling would-be author.

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