Your Father's Room by Michel Deon
|Your Father's Room by Michel Deon|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Phil Lewis|
|Summary: A wry and slightly dreamlike collection of childhood memories from a French master.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 112||Date: June 2017|
|Publisher: Gallic Books|
|External links: Author's website|
I don't feel altogether qualified to review Michel Déon's 2004 fictionalised memoir Your Father's Room, translated here into English for the first time. I hadn't heard of Déon before receiving my copy, let alone read any of his books, published over a 70 year period to much acclaim in his homeland. But it's part of the pleasure of book reviewing to read with no prior knowledge or prejudice, all the more so if you discover an absolute gem.
Your Father's Room is a slim volume of fictionalised memoir, based on Déon's own memories of his childhood in the slightly unreal world of 1920s Monte Carlo. Édouard, now a misty eyed 80 year old, recounts his early years with a dreamy wisdom that is both wry and mournful. The two towering figures in his life are Blanche, his sophisticated and slightly distant mother, and his papa, a high ranking civil servant working for the Prince of Monaco. There's no doubt little Teddy has a privileged, bourgeois existence - I lost track of the various maids and cooks that criss-cross in and out of his memories. But there's also a bohemian streak, particularly in his papa's attitude towards authority and religion. Directing his vitriol towards a particularly upright nobleman, he spits:
there isn't one dead man, one maimed war veteran whose fate has not paid him his commission.
Déon's descriptions of Monte Carlo, or the principality as he calls it, are sumptuous. It's a world of aristocrats, exiled White Russians, casinos and private beaches, musty Catholic priests and quack doctors. It's hard for me to know which memories are Déon's alone, and which have been embellished. Some seem too remarkable to be fiction. The local children, having found a steep set of steps to play on, encounter a mysterious, slightly bedraggled figure. He offers them sweets, which they refuse. A week or so later Teddy sees this same man on the front of his papa's newspaper, squashed between two policeman, fresh from assassinating Paul Doumer, the only French president to die of a gunshot wound. This encounter, I like to think, is true.
Published when Déon was 85 (he died in 2016 aged 97), it is perhaps inevitable that this book contains some almost unbearably sad passages. One of the most moving parts sees Teddy and his papa visit a doctor, Teddy for tonsillitis, papa for migraines. Both undergo botched surgery from the quack physician, and undertake painful recuperations. Papa, drained of his usual cool aloofness, opens up to his son, laments on the trials of fatherhood, and begs his forgiveness. It's a moment the author clearly treasures, and it's a humbling piece of writing.
This is a special book, one filled with little bits of wisdom I feel I won't properly appreciate until I'm much older. It's clearly the work of a writer who's spent a lifetime honing his craft, a writer who it seems Britain is yet to discover en masse. There's a William Boyd quote on the front of my copy:
Our lives would all be the richer if we read a Michel Déon novel.
On this evidence I'm inclined to agree.
Further reading suggestion: The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
You can read more book reviews or buy Your Father's Room by Michel Deon at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Your Father's Room by Michel Deon at Amazon.com.
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