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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


David Foenkinos

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To purchase Delicacy

Title: Delicacy
Author: David Foenkinos
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 250 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Delicacy - US
Delicacy - UK
Delicacy - Canada
La délicatesse - Canada
Delicacy - India
La délicatesse - France
Nathalie küsst - Deutschland
La delicatezza - Italia
La delicadeza - España
  • French title: La délicatesse
  • Translated by Bruce Benderson
  • La délicatesse was made into a film in 2011, directed by David and Stéphane Foenkinos and starring Audrey Tautou, François Damiens and Mélanie Bernier

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Our Assessment:

B- : the forced playful style works for a while but can't sustain the novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 31/8/2011 Mohammed Aissaou
The Independent . 9/12/2011 Emma Hagestadt
Irish Times A 10/12/2011 Eileen Battersby
Le Point . 1/3/2011 Marine de Tilly
Publishers Weekly . 12/9/2011 .
The Washington Post . 10/2/2012 Sarah Pekkanen

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dans La Délicatesse, la très jolie veuve tombe amoureuse d'un employé timide et disgracieux tandis que son patron tente de la conquérir. Avec cette simple intrigue, le romancier tient le lecteur en haleine." - Mohammed Aissaou, Le Figaro

  • ""Delicate" is probably the mot juste for this ineffably Gallic romance, which is translated with panache by Bruce Benderson." - Emma Hagestadt, The Independent

  • "Foenkinos sustains his laconic tone, the narrative beat and his tendency towards wry authorial asides. (...) In spite, or possibly because of, the breathless screenplay-in-the-making quality, Delicacy moves from strength to strength. What seems like a supermarket read -- and probably is -- is unputdownable because the narrative tension is held in check by the ordinariness of the players and the understated narrative voice." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "Pour être franc, entre le sujet déjà lu des milliers de fois et les ficelles romantico-pleurnichardes archiusées, Foenkinos ne se facilite pas la tâche, il faut vraiment qu'il y ait "quelque chose". Et ce quelque chose, nul besoin d'aller le chercher bien loin, c'est la langue : une langue vive, bondissante, malicieuse, pleine d'autodérision et de deuxième degré, une langue concrète, quotidienne, drôle, irrésistible." - Marine de Tilly, Le Point

  • "Foenkinos’s first novel to be translated into English is delicate, funny, offbeat, and subtle, with Markus and Natalie as unlikely but realistically drawn protagonists. Foenkinos paces the novel well, breaking it up with songs, lists, footnotes, and other formal elements reminiscent of Nick Hornby or Rick Moody yet making them his own." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The novel isn’t flawless. (...) Still, this is a delicious chocolate truffle of romance." - Sarah Pekkanen, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Delicacy is a romantic tale of sorts, as Natalie finds love, loses it, and finds it yet again. It's a book in the mold of the fiction of Alain de Botton, or some Nick Hornby, short chapters (a total of 115 for the novel) that switch between narrative and things such as lists and incidental information -- which here includes everything from an imagined 'John Lennon's Discography If He Hadn't Died in 1980' to the French 'League 1 Soccer Scores the Evening Charles Understood Natalie Would Never Be Attracted to Him' to the 'Code for the Door to Markus's Building' (A9624) to the 'Ingredients for Risotto with Asparagus' (though the recipe itself is not on offer). These off-beat titbits do help break up what would otherwise be an unbearably saccharin narrative, but, like most everything else here, they do feel a bit forced.
       One of the off-beat chapters is a scene from an imagined Delicacy-screenplay (a way of presenting one encounter essentially just in dialogue); a footnote adds:

Actresses imagined by the director: Audrey Tautou as Natalie and Mélanie Bernier as Chloé.
       It's at least a slightly amusing variation on the laziest author-trick in the book (the general theoretical author-handbook, not this specific one, in which Foenkinos employs several lazier tricks, too): present a pre-conceived notion of a character to the reader, rather than trying to independently bring her to life. (Needless to say, too: Delicacy is being made into a film, directed by Foenkinos and featuring Audrey Tautou and Mélanie Bernier in those roles .....)
       So, Audrey Tautou Natalie is the central figure in the novel. She falls in love with François and marries him; they live happily everafter for a while -- until he gets run over while jogging. So Natalie winds up a young widow, her one great love lost.
       Natalie works for a Swedish company, and perhaps the main reason she got the job was that the boss took a shine to her, even though she was married at that time. She continues to work there after the death of her husband, the boss continues to lust after her -- and another man enters the picture, too, with Natalie and him beginning an awkward and unlikely and yet obviously meant-to-be romance. Trying to come to terms with loss, workplace romance, and various jealousies -- notably that of the boss -- complicates matters, but ... well, they'll figure things out, right ?
       Character study and romance, Delicacy is as much about style as it is substance. Foenkinos does explore how to present such a story, and such characters, and some of this works reasonably well. He has a decent ear and while the humor falls fairly flat at least he has a reasonably light touch and doesn't take himself or his characters as seriously as, say, Anna Gavalda tries to (indeed, this novel also feels like Anna Gavalda-lite (as hard to believe as that concept might be ...)).
       There are a few odd efforts at being more substantial: Hopscotch, by Julio Cortázar, is a(n unlikely) point of reference, and there are observations such as: "The kiss was like modern art" (Kazimir Malevich's 'White on White' is cited in the next chapter, to explain what he means in case you didn't get it ...).
       More typical (and irritating) are simplistic broadest brushstroke descriptions such as:
He was smiling with his least Swedish smile possible, almost a kind of Spanish smile.
       (Indeed, Foenkinos' use of Sweden, (supposed) Swedish character traits, and the various characters' attitudes towards Sweden ("I'd rather go to the unemployment office than to Sweden", one character insists) feels particularly forced and feeble.)
       Foenkinos aims for delicacy in Delicacy, and he manages in much of the writing and presentation -- but his touch isn't quite fine enough. There's an odd lack of confidence here, too -- at least that's what some of the (feeble) humor suggests: a perfectly fine thought such as: "He was sorry about having long legs; as regrets go, it certainly was a useless one" is undermined by the nonsensical footnoted addition: "There are no short legs for rent".
       Foenkinos is not without talent, and there's some appeal to parts of this romantic tale -- some successful scenes and interaction, some nicely-phrased passages. The whole, however, is a lot to take: despite the lightness of Foenkinos' touch, in sum it's like a sledgehammer-beating.
       Yes, it is very 'French' (in that Anna Gavalda sort of way) -- but there's a reason (indeed, surely that is the reason) why American publishers haven't leapt to publish this mega-bestselling author's books before .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 October 2011

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Delicacy: Reviews: Delicacy - the film: Other books by David Foenkinos under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bestselling French author David Foenkinos was born in 1974.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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