Reading ‘French Rhapsody’ isn’t the worst mistake I’ve ever made.
Although, if I’m being honest, had I have truly known what the novel was about I don’t think I’d have ordered it and read it quite so eagerly as I did.
It’s not that it’s a bad book…it’s just that I well and truly judged this book by its cover and its blurb – and it wasn’t what I was expecting. Which seems to ring true with a few other reviews that I’ve seen.
I was expecting it to be the story of a middleaged doctor who receives a long-delayed letter from a record company – offering his old band a record deal, before telling us how he went and reunited with the rest of the band members.
To some extent that is the plot – but it’s not a story about music, and it’s not really a story about the reunion. In fact it’s a cutting commentary on politics, bureaucracy and how relationships change over time.
I’ve never read anything by the author (Antoine Laurain) before so, in fairness, perhaps if I’d have been more aware of him I’d have known what to expect. The whole forgotten letter from the record company takes up only a small amount of French Rhapsody’s 215 pages.
The rest of the story mainly covers an upcoming French Presidential election and how two of the ex band members are running for office. One is a notorious leader of a far-right group, the other is a suave and mysterious economist who seems to have an answer for everything. Both characters are very engaging and there are a couple of twists with both of them that you’ll never see coming.
It’s a philosophical read and, when not talking politics, it brings up a lot of thoughts on how we change as we get older and how different priorities appear and take over those priorities that only seem important to you when you’re young.
I also liked how some of the chapters were written from other characters’ points of view, as if they were extracts from their diaries.
All in all, I couldn’t get away from the feeling that French Rhapsody was so different from what I expected that I didn’t feel satisfied with it – luckily it’s a fairly slender book, so it didn’t take up too much of my time.
The only other comment I’ll make is that, while I’m a fan of an arty narrative, it was a bit hard to follow – I wonder if perhaps a few of the sentences were a little lost in translation.
3/5 for me – but just be wary that the story is a little different to what the blurb indicates. Look out for a chapter about a giant, rubber brain that floats over Paris…