I was thoroughly charmed by The Mystery of Henri Pick. Originally written in French, this English translation captures all the bounce and delightfulness of its original language. Set in both Paris and the small town of Crozon, Brittany in France, it tells a very intriguing literary-themed story indeed.
Opening sentence: In 1971, the American writer Richard Brautigan published The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966, a quirky love story about a male librarian and a young woman with a spectacular body.
A Story About Books
Local Crozon librarian, Jean-Pierre Gourvec, inspired by the book referenced in the above quote, creates a library for rejected books. Budding authors can bring their unpublished works to the library, as a sort of final resting place for them.
When Delphine Despero, a young and enthusiastic editor at a Parisian publisher takes a trip back home to her parents’ house in Crozon, she learns about the existence of the unique library. Intrigued, she, along with her writer boyfriend, Frederic, take a look through the abandoned manuscripts and hit gold – a story that she believes should indeed by published.
In an age where everybody wants to be famous for everything and nothing, here was a man who spent months of his life perfecting a work destined to be dust.
It turns out the author is a local man – Henri Pick – known mainly for running the pizzeria until his death, not for his literary talents. So the news that he wrote a great book comes as a surprise. Especially to his widow, Madeleine and daughter, Josephine.
The Last Hours of a Love Affair
Henri’s book is titled The Last hours of a Love Affair and had a unique premise:
It’s an extraordinary idea to blend the end of a love affair with the death throes of a great Russian poet.
Once the manuscript is discovered by Delphine, the narrative wonderfully weaves the stories of several characters together, each cleverly tying back to the central theme of the fictional novel. We get to know Delphine more, as well as Josephine. Then we meet Magali the current rejected library books owner and Jean-Michel Rouche, a literary critic, amongst others. It explores how the unexpected publication of this book can effect so many lives directly.
I also love how The Mystery of Henri Pick looks the power of a reader taking what they want from a story; pulling out the parts they relate to and connecting:
Readers always find themselves in a book, in one way or another. Reading is a completely egotistical pleasure.
Walter Presents Beautiful Brittany
Interestingly, Pushkin Press (who publish this book) have teamed up with Channel 4 All 4’s Walter Presents – an initiative that showcases the best international stories in TV, film and now literature. The Mystery of Henri Pick is the first book in this Walter Presents series from the publisher. I will 100% be reading the next one if this is the standard!
Another reason this book appeals to much is that Brittany was my family’s destination of choice for holidays every summer when I was a child. I just love it there and its beautiful landscape and coastline are wonderfully captured in these pages. Makes me want to visit again very soon!
People were talking much more about the mystery of Henri Pick than about his book.
I totally recommend The Mystery of Henri Pick – an effortless to read page-turner with a delightful knowing tone directed at the reader and a layered plotline that was just a joy to read. Plus, it has books, novels, writing and a good-old mystery as its central plotline – I dare you not to be captivated by it.
- Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
- Published by Pushkin Press May 2020;
- 288 pages;
- My rating: