A French Life
Jean-Paul Dubois Hamish Hamilton, 288pp, £14.99
This is a story about a life half lived. In the opening pages of Jean-Paul Dubois’s award-winning French novel, eight-year-old Paul Blick’s older brother dies. Throughout the rest of the book, he is haunted by death, both spiritual and physical.
As a young man, Blick is involved in the May 1968 riots, but his revolutionary tendencies fade over time. The remainder of his early adulthood passes in a blur of sexual adventures, but these, too, are eventually replaced by a passionless marriage to Anna, an ambitious business-woman who is the director of a jacuzzi company.
Blick stumbles into a career as a photographer, and his unexpected success puts him in the privileged yet insidious position of being able to live off the royalties of his first published work – a book of tree photographs – without ever needing to create anything new.
The novel spans the past half-century, and Dubois heads the chapters with the names of former French presidents. This attempt to tie Blick’s life to his country’s political backdrop is inconsistent, however, especially given the character’s growing apathy. The novel works better as a study of one man’s emotional stagnation. Blick’s self-absorption does start to grate, but for the most part this is countered by the humour and insight in the writing.