I’ve rarely been one to follow trends (excluding music, where I am painfully commercial. Bring over Rihanna and Sean Paul, please!). Everything else, clothes, people, and especially books I have an opinion that almost never converges to the general public’s. Same applies to my reflection on Tatiana de Rosnay’s fiction.
Sarah’s Key is an international bestseller selling millions of copies worldwide. People (very general, huh?) get touched by the sad story of a Jewish girl, who is taken away together with her family and brought to a stadium without food, water, or shelter. She leaves her little brother in a secret wardrobe and promises to come and rescue him but that never happens. Sarah’s story is investigated by a journalist, whose family happens to inhabit the same house. I already commented on Sarah’s Key a few months ago and as you might see I was far less impressed by it.
Plot is a little bit trivial. Antoine Rey, a recently divorced, depressed, and lonely middle aged man takes his sister Melanie on a trip for her birthday. They go to a French island they used to visit as kids. Memories of their deceased mother re-appear after a terrible accident and Antoine is set to discover the mystery behind his mother’s death and the reason why the family doesn’t mention her anymore. Meanwhile, he struggles to deal with his growing-up teenagers, his ex-wife’s new lover, his father’s sickness, and his new-found affection for a mysterious woman. The typical family saga that makes housewives read breathlessly, that requires little focus from the mind, but that indeed has some positive features worth mentioning.
First of all, Tatiana de Rosnay’s style is easily recognizable here. Changing point-of-views, introducing letters/thoughts of characters that never appear in the novel (Sarah, or here Antoine’s mother), and deeply elaborating on the feelings of the middle-aged person trying to fight with the disturbances of life. More importantly, though, Rosnay touches a rather sensitive subject, which I found enjoyable – parents. What we think about them as children is rarely what we think about them as we grow up. When we are little, we see mum and dad as these heroic human beings, who have no flaws, who make no mistakes, and who always know best. It is extremely painful to grow up and realize that the piedestal you have put your dad (mum) on is too fragile. It is even more painful to see this piedestal crash into pieces and to realize your parents are as every other people on earth (sometimes even worse), to get a sense of their flaws (sometimes too much to bear), and to start appreciating them (accepting them) for who they are. Antoine is in a similar position. Set out to discover the mystery behind his mother’s death, he goes deep into family secrets he is not sure he wants to know. At the end the conflict is clear – are you ready to discover things about your parents you never suspected, things that are so outrageous for their time that prompted the whole family to cover up the whole story, things that make your mother seem so different from what you imagined. It requires a lot of strength and courage to open up the family album and to see the real parents. Especially when the parent is deceased and cannot give you any explanation. Antoine takes this next step, realizing it is better to know the truth than to live in denial and ignorance.
The mystery part of the book was indeed good and entertaining. As for the others (i.e teenager problems, middle-age depression, jealousy, love) they are as predictable as Turkish soap operas. Of course at the end love conquers it all, which left me with a bad taste after the solving of the mystery. But hey, one has to give something to those housewives.
I was rather shocked when I saw that Tatiana de Rosnay was named one of the top 3 fiction writers for 2010 together with Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson. I am a moderate fan of Dan Brown (after the 3rd book he becomes painfully predictable) but Stieg Larsson is a genius (may he RIP). This comparison is far overrated in favor of Mrs Rosnay. The Millenium Trilogy (Book 1, 2, and 3) is classes above Rosnay’s fiction both in terms of suspense and human psychology. Still, if you come across Tatiana de Rosnay, don’t be quick to look the other direction. There is some potential for something more there.