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Joyeux Noël and 13 à table, a collection of short stories

December 25, 2016 18 comments

jooyeux_noel_tousI wish you all a Merry Christmas. For readers who celebrate this holiday, I hope you’re somewhere safe and surrounded by friends and family. For readers who don’t have Christmas as a tradition, I send you my best wishes for this day anyway. In the media and in shopping malls, Christmas has turned into a giant consuming fest. On a more private level, I think it’s still a moment of year to be with family and friends. It remains linked to childhood and, I hope, it relates to happy and innocent times.

I’m not religious but Christmas is also a time to be generous and open to others. In France, we have a charity named Les Restos du Coeur. It was founded in 1985 by an artist, Coluche. He wanted to do something to feed the poor and decided on opening restaurants. Today it distributes 132.5 million meals and started a lot of different actions to help people in need. From the start, this charity has been supported by artists, especially by singers and actors who organize a huge concert every winter. For a few years now, writers have donated short stories to put together an annual collection whose profit goes to Les Restos du Coeur. I have the 2016 edition and in the foreword, it says that in 2014, 1.4 million of meals were distributed thanks to this book. And since each book brings in four free meals, I let you do the math and imagine how many books were sold.

13_tableThe collections are named 13 à table, which means 13 people around the table. Actually, twelve writers participate. I guess the thirteenth shadow participant is the reader or the beneficiay of the meals. In the 2016 collection, the common theme was siblings. The writers are Françoise Bourdin, Michel Bussi, Maxime Chattam, Stéphane De Groodt, François d’Epenoux, Karine Giebel, Douglas Kennedy, Alexandra Lapierre, Agnès Ledig, Nadine Monfils, Romain Puértolas and Bernard Werber. Most of them I’d never read. All are francophone writers except for Douglas Kennedy. He’s American and he’s more successful here than in his own country, it makes sense to find him here.

These stories explore relationships between siblings or the feelings about only children. Love, jealousy, longing for brothers or sisters and complicity. They show the power of this unique link between people who share the same parents.

The best short stories in the collection were the ones by Michel Bussi and Maxime Chattam. Both of them are dark and I can’t tell much about them without spoiling them. These are two crime fiction writers and both stories reach a certain level of perversity.

Françoise Bourdin tells a story about two very different brothers, one wealthy and bourgeois, the other more rebel and bohemian. Both are middle-aged. They see each other regularly and the bourgeois one tends to think his brother is a bit of a mooch…until he sees he helps him out too, just not on a financial level.

In Aleyna, Karine Giebel chose to explore the implacable law imposed to sisters by older brothers into some cultures. Here it is the Turkish community and the need for a girl to be pure and ready for imposed marriages. According to the UN, 5000 women die each year in the name of honor.

Douglas Kennedy wrote a story about a man who confide in his aunt only to get slapped in the face when he realizes he played right into the unknown and unhealthy relationship his aunt has with her brother, this man’s father.

I don’t know how I missed Nadine Monfils as a writer. She’s Belgian and has already 60 novels under her belt, most of them crime fiction. Her story La robe bleue is a bit Noir but not on the crime side.

It was a very enjoyable collection to read. On this day of grande bouffe et petits cadeaux (big meals and small gifts) as Renaud sings sarcastically in his song Hexagone, I thought it was the right time to pause for a moment and remember that not everyone spends a cozy Christmas day with a full belly.

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