Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Book of Pearl (Translated from the French)

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29069892-the-book-of-pearl
Le Livre de Perle (The Book of Pearl), Timothēe De Fombelle
Well, I read this in a day!  I felt like I was swimming in a well-established fairy tale that had somehow escaped me all my life.  It was engaging and tasteful and came together like a tidy tapestry.
  • The writing and pacing were so accessible and measured respectively that I found it easy to slide into this world and stay there.  I read for an hour or so in the afternoon and then finished the book after the girls were in bed.  I wanted to see the tale from beginning to end within the day -- that felt right.  It wasn't riveting or pulse-altering like some other books I've read, but I think that is because it was gentler; and
  • It was so refreshingly tasteful!  Not only was there no swearing, sensuality, drug use, or graphic violence, it was also simply in good taste.  There are boys and girls interested in each other, there are villains interested in bringing harm to heroes and robbing the vulnerable of free will, and there is peril -- yet not once, was the line of indecency crossed.  The themes are inoffensive and heart-warming and the violence is reported rather than described.  I really respect what De Fombelle has achieved.  It was what I was hoping for from Pullman (I was disappointed there).
  • The narrative isn't told chronologically.  Yet - YET (don't let me lose you) - this is never overwhelming.  It is more of a flashback, cut-away elsewhere, flash-forward again, and cut-back type of pattern.  Because the number of characters is very manageable and the worlds are made easy to navigate, it's pleasant to see the past, future and intersecting worlds resolve into one.  It is very manageable.  It is the kind of flashing-back and cut-away you expected from fairy tales -- the Beast is in the tower because (detail detail)... and Belle is meanwhile in the village (detail detail)...  This also plays out very cinematically, mentally, for me.
  • The blurbage and synopsis suggest love story, and this is very much a story about love, but it is not a book filled with swooning, courtship, and romance -- it is more about the legacy of a love story, and the life-lived because of having loved.  I think someone who goes in for one kind of love story would be a touch disappointed while another who avoids the same might be pleasantly surprised.   In fact, if I think too long on the foundation for this love, it is my biggest (and only actual) beef with the book -- but if I consider it as a given to tell the after-tale, I'm fine with it.
  • I have very mixed feelings about the cover.  I think it is beautiful. I also understand the concepts that have been pulled and synthesised.  But I think the French cover does better to appeal to a mixed audience (it features a loose illustration of stacks of suitcases).  Having the world "Pearl" in the title likely already gives pause to some male readers who are unsure they'll find a male voice they can relate to within, but the inclusion of fairy as a dominant image tips things over the edge for many a hesitant hand. But you know what?  I think this is more about the male protagonist (and other males)!  So I'm worried that young men who would have loved this book will pass it by.  The fairy is central, but this is not a "fairy book" or girls' story, it is a strong fairy tale...
  • ...and if I had to compare (but this book is truly unique, for me), I would suggest it magically unfolds in a way similar to The Inventions of Hugo Cabret with some elements that reminded me of Maleficent.
  • Undoubtedly this final point is owed in large part to this being a translated text, but hoorah -- the turns of phrase were so refreshing!  I can't recall a single cliché or predictable line!  I did re-read an entire chapter because I wanted it to play out in my mind again.  It is good storytelling and writing, and both author and translators have word-smithed something quite lovely here.
Translation released this month, available for purchase now.

Review copy received from Walker.
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