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Towards Beauty by David Foenkinos – does art heal wounds?

August 3, 2021 15 comments

Towards Beauty by David Foenkinos (2018) Original French title: Vers la beauté.

I think I purchased Vers la beauté by David Foenkinos at the Musée d’Orsay bookstore. I was drawn to its cover with the Modigliani picture.

Antoine teaches art at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Lyon. When the book opens, he has taken a leave of absence, fled from Lyon without telling anyone where he went. He got hired as a museum attendant at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. We don’t know why he left so abruptly, just that he’s desperate and doesn’t want to interact with anybody. He just wants to lick his wounds at the museum and hope that the beauty of the paintings surrounding him will heal him. He’s a specialist of Modigliani and he loves to have silent conversations with the portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne.

Mathilde, the HR manager of the museum is intrigued by her new employee. She guesses that he’s wounded and she wants to understand why an art professor would want a job as a museum attendant. Slowly, she manages to break through Antoine’s defenses and we understand that he was already vulnerable after a painful breakup with his long-term girlfriend when a traumatic event happened in Lyon.

In the second part, we switch to Camille’s life and personal drama. Like Antoine, she sought solace in her painting and her art studies.

I can’t tell more about the characters without spoiling the book. Let’s say that both Antoine and Camille try to find hope and a healing balm in art. It is soothing but, in the end, talking to people, letting them in and accepting their help seems the most efficient way of healing one’s wounds.

Foenkinos writes well, his novel has a certain musicality, built out of a clever balance between melancholy, soft irony and musings. It’s a nice book, one you can read in one sitting. It is set in Paris and Lyon, I enjoyed reading about places I knew.

It’s not available in English, yet. Other books by Foenkinos have been translated, like Delicacy.

Swedish Delicacy

May 23, 2011 13 comments

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.

 45

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.

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