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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The French Father

Alain Elkann

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To purchase The French Father

Title: The French Father
Author: Alain Elkann
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 117 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The French Father - US
The French Father - UK
The French Father - Canada
The French Father - India
Le père français - France
Il padre francese - Italia
  • Italian title: Il padre francese
  • Translated by Alastair McEwen

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Our Assessment:

B : nice concept, fairly well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       In the The French Father the narrator -- who is also the author, Alain Elkann -- tries to deal with the death of his father. Prominent in the Jewish community in Paris, he was apparently a tough man to please -- and Elkann, with his choice of "an absurd and arrogant profession" (writer and journalist), apparently remained something of a disappointment, with his father telling him things like:

You're over forty and you haven't even got the lowest grade of the Legion of Honour, you should be ashamed.
       Still, when the father dies, Elkann has some difficulty dealing with it. Noticing that his father is buried near the French artist Roland Topor (best known for the novel The Tenant, which was made into a film by Roman Polanski, though he was also a remarkable illustrator and painter), Elkann imagines the two dead guys becoming friends.
       Elkann talks to various members of Topor's family, to learn more about the artist and get a picture of him, but Topor remains an elusive character. So Elkann's ex-wife suggests the obvious:
Invent it. Write what you like, whatever comes into your head.
       And that's what Elkann does, shifting back and forth between describing his life after his father's death (and his attempts to find out more about Topor) and imagining conversations between his dead father and the dead Topor -- both now much more philosophical in their posthumous state.
       As he admits, the Topor he imagines probably wasn't much like the real one -- but:
My Topor has become a character, a friend, someone who has made it possible for me to make my father live again, make him talk, make him repeat yet again the stories I heard him tell so often.
       It's a nice idea, and it's fairly well done, the two strong and unusual personalities finding common ground, as it were, in the hereafter. It is, of course, pure escapism -- Elkann can stick any words he wants in his father's mouth -- but Elkann's continuing attempts to learn about Topor, and the sense of the man he can piece together from what information he is able to gather serve as a constant reminder of how similarly distant, elusive, and ultimately unknowable his own father was. Indeed, the unknowability of others is something Elkann finds himself constantly confronted with, whether in meeting his former wife or in dealing with both his own and Topor's relatives.
       Elkann admits, "It's a curious way of continuing to live with my father, whom I miss", but it also seems an ideal way of coming to terms with what was clearly a difficult relationship. Elkann admits:
I was fond of him, even of his cruelty, his need to be superior, his indifference. To say that my father made me suffer is to put it mildly. He made me feel wretched, incapable of managing my life decently.
       Through writing, of course, Elkann suddenly has not just the upper hand but complete control; surely it's also no coincidence that he also choses another writer to be the posthumous soul-mate for dear old dad -- who, he points out, "hated writers".
       Psychologically interesting though all this, it's also hard not to think that there has to be considerably more beneath the very controlled surface Elkann presents to readers, and it's too bad he doesn't get to the point of having his two father-figures really go at it in the hereafter -- but then what he's after here is clearly a form of laying to rest.
       A bit of an odd piece of work, but certainly intriguing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 November 2011

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The French Father: Reviews: Other books by Alain Elkann under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Alain Elkann was born in 1950.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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