Swedish Delicacy

La délicatesse by David Foenkinos. 2009. 210 pages. The English translation, Delicacy (PS) will be released in English (UK) in December 2011.

 Let’s rewind my last weeks’ readings: a book about working conditions in the 21st century, a book about a French widow bullied at work by her boss, a book about poverty and poor working conditions in Paris in the 1920s, an improbable love story in Sweden between a young widow and a farmer, an autobiography full of literary references.

Now, I managed to read a book about a romance in an office between a young French widow and a Swedish employee with literary references in the text. Bizarre.

Nathalie meets, falls for and marries François. Nathalie finds a job in a company. Her boss Charles is in love with her but she’s very married. Charles’s hopes remain silent. François is run over by a car. Nathalie mourns. Nathalie works. Nathalie is available. Charles is still in love with her and now his hopes skyrocket. But Nathalie kisses the insignificant and colourless Markus. His hopes skyrocket and Charles’s hopes plummet. By the coffee machine, gossips go up and down around Nathalie. It is well known that:  

To evaluate the strength of a gossip, you only have to check the takings of the coffee machine. Today, it would be historical.

The plot is rather banal but the structure is original.  It is split into 117 chapters (the number means something) and some chapters are an excerpt of a song, a statistic, a definition. All are related to the story. 

End of Chapter 44

“I’d like to know why you kissed me.”


“I don’t know”, Nathalie whispered.

Markus would have wanted an answer, even a rejection, but certainly not this nothing.

– You don’t know?

– No, I don’t

– You can’t leave me that way, you owe me an explanation.”

There is nothing to say.

This kiss was like modern art.


Title of a painting by Kasimir Malevich 

Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918)

It is full of gratuitous comments by the writer and funny phrases from Markus with his dry sense of humour. It also relates how relationships are based on funny misunderstandings.  

It was a quick read (less than 3 hours). It’s simply written but with nice images:  

When leaving that Friday night, he was really happy to take shelter in the week-end. He would use Saturday and Sunday as two big blankets

Although I didn’t buy La délicatesse, it strangely echoed with books I’ve just read. It’s delicate and witty. A good novel to take on a train.

  1. May 24, 2011 at 6:48 am

    I might like this and since it is short I will probably read it. Your choice of books shows an interesting pattern indeed… This happens sometimes. I usually enjoy it when books I read echo each other… It doesn’t happen to me at the moment at all. I guess with the Thomspon and the Huxley you will get out of that pattern…


    • May 24, 2011 at 7:32 am

      Hello Caroline,

      You’d probably like it as an entertainment. It’s nothing more. It makes me think of the film La discrète with Fabrice Lucchini but I can’t really explain why.

      Someone lent me La délicatesse, so it’s pure chance that it echoes the others. It felt like a weird coincidence.
      I wouldn’t be so sure about Thompson and Huxley: Nick Corey (the Sheriff in the Thompson book) seems to have a serious issue, his perception of the world is twisted.


  2. May 24, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I haven’t seen the movie. Intelligent entertainment is sometimes better than some depressing wanna-be literary masterpiece. It’s a long time ago I read the Huxley.


    • May 24, 2011 at 7:59 am

      I agree with that.

      Juste pour le plaisir, voici le chapitre 37
      Il semble difficile de savoir qui a inventé la moquette. Selon le Larousse, la moquette n’est qu’ “un tapis vendu au mètre”
      Voilà une expression qui justifie le caractère minable de son existence.

      Ah, c’est peut-être ça le lien avec Huxley. La moquette: définie dans un cas, fumée dans l’autre…

      I don’t know what my weak brain will understand of the Huxley. Thank god I have it in French.
      About Jim Thompson : what’s the French word for “god-danged”? I can feel the meaning but I can’t put a word on it. (and of course it’s not in the dictionaries) “putain”?


      • May 24, 2011 at 9:40 am

        No clue, a euphemism for goddam(ned)?


  3. May 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Saw La Discrete and liked it very much. As I read the review, I thought this would make a good rom-com. Who would you cast in the film version?


    • May 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm

      Good question. Let me think about it and I’ll come back.


    • May 24, 2011 at 8:45 pm

      OK I know:
      Nathalie : Isabelle Carré / Gwyneth Paltrow
      Markus : Guillaume Canet / Owen Wilson
      Charles : Jean Dujardin / Johnny Depp
      François : Romain Duris / Matt Damon

      Now I think the casting tells more about me than about the book !!


  4. May 25, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Who you ‘cast’ really gives me a flavour of the book, funnily enough.


  5. December 28, 2011 at 11:35 am

    La Délicatesse, the film.
    Affiche du film La Délicatesse
    I’ve seen the film version directed by David Foenkinos and his brother. The actors (Audrey Tautou for Nathalie and François Damien for Markus) are well-chosen but not the ones I would have chosen. (see the above comment) I didn’t imagine Markus that plain though.

    I wondered how they could put into the film the lightness and the originality of the book, and especially its little remarks. That was a relevant question because they failed.
    OK, they avoided the worse i.e. heavy romantic comedy but they didn’t manage to show the poetry in Markus, his out-of-phase side.

    An honest film but nothing more.


  1. June 5, 2012 at 4:40 pm

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