Delicacy by David Foenkinos – The Real Readers Experience!

Real Readers is a scheme set up by AMS Digital Publishing, who also run the popular review sites Book Dagger, Book Geeks, Book Hugger and the newsletter Book Breeze. Real Readers was set up in order to allow bloggers and people who just really like reading to review books before their release and review them across the web, on Amazon, GoodReads, Shelfari and their own blogs. Well-written and prompt reviews get ‘Karma’ points, and the reviewer gets more books sent to them. Win-win! In the case of French novel Delicacy by David Foenkinos, this also meant reviewing the new film adaptation of the book, as well as the book itself.

So, I received a very pretty copy of Delicacy in the post last week, and on Friday 10th attended a private screening of the film at the Soho Screening Rooms. Having spent four hours lounging about in the 5th floor cafe of Waterstones Piccadilly (highly recommended), drinking hot chocolate and finishing reading Delicacy, I was eager to see how it had been adapted to film. One of Real Readers’ organisers, Simon Appleby, was there to greet us, and once everyone had arrived we filed in to the teeny screening room. Having finished the book an hour or two before, I was immersed in Foenkinos’ imaginary Paris, and had much of the book fresh in my mind as I watched the film.

2011 English language paperback edition

The premise of Delicacy is deceptively simple. Natalie is having coffee one day when a handsome young man comes up to talk to her. This is Francois. One thing leads to another, and, soon, they are married. One Sunday, Natalie is reading and on the sofa and Francois goes out for a run and gets hit by a car. He dies. For three years Natalie throws herself into work, fending off her boss’ flirtations and waiting to become an old maid. Then, on a particularly daydream-y afternoon, she impulsively kisses her average-looking colleague Markus. He is head-over-heels; she forgets it even happened. The rest of the book is the story of what happened next – the story of Natalie and Markus. Not always easy or fun, but always unexpected.

At only 250 pages this is a short and sweet book. There are 115 chapters, all of which are pleasingly short and sweet too. Every now and then an entire chapter is taken up with lists and facts, which serve as a charming diversion from the main story that suggest the wealth of life behind the fraction of it we are seeing in these pages.

The underlying sadness of the story adds a depth not usually present in novels with such pretty covers – a depth that Foenkinos demonstrates through deliberate prose and the short chapters that often end on a poignant or thought-provoking moment.

At times the story lapses into ‘standard’ relationship drama, but Foenkinos always brings us back with moments of literary excellence: ‘Every day near her had been the huge but surreptitious conquest of a veritable empire of the heart.’ No words are wasted in this novel and there are several small and beautiful moments that really make you stop, put down the book for a moment, and think about what you have just read.

2011 English language film poster

The film is beautiful too. I was eager to see what changes had been made to the original story and how these would affect the overall work. Happily the changes made did not ruin the tone of the story nor the personalities or relationships of the characters. My only complaint about the changes was that they did not include Markus’ fantastic line from page 95: ‘But that moment was the realest of my life.’ After reading it, I stopped and had a ‘moment’. It was wonderful.

The use of music is subtle and effective, really evoking an atmosphere and helping to create mood. Along with the music, the gentle humour (often visual) worked very well with the sadder elements of the story, as it does in the novel. Audrey Tautou was as charming and subtle in her performance as ever, and managed to have good chemistry with every other character. The addition of her best friend (not present in the novel) worked surprisingly well – it added another dimension to her character and allowed her to speak the feelings that Foenkinos only describes in the book.

Look out for office secretary Ingrid. She is not in the novel but here is an obvious visual reference to the character of Joan Holloway from ‘Mad Men’ – red hair, large bust, gold pen on a gold chain around her neck, a red v-neck sweater paired with a purple pencil skirt. She is the French Joan!

Author David Foenkinos

Delicacy has won every literary award in France, apparently the first novel ever to do this, and the film adaptation has been highly successful too. Audrey Tautou is a major attraction for many cinema-goers, and she is brilliant, but there are many more reasons to see the film, and read the book too.

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Delicacy was originally published as La Delicatesse in France in 2009 by Gallimard. It was published in the UK in English in 2011 by Bloomsbury. My copy was kindly provided by Real Readers and Bloomsbury for review.

‘La Delicatesse’ was released in France in 2011, and as ‘Delicacy’ in the UK, also in 2011.

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