Natalie is alluring, graceful, successful and deeply in love with her husband François. Their relationship is easy, they are contented and she feels free - until one Sunday when François heads out for a jog, is hit by a car and dies a few days later.
So begins Delicacy, the eighth novel from renowned French writer David Foenkinos.
When Natalie returns to the office some months after François' death, she throws herself into her work, avoiding both her grief and the affections of her overly attentive (and married) boss, Charles.
One day as Natalie paces her office, she begins to regard her body as an object of desire once again, just at the moment that her team member Markus knocks on the door. Natalie impulsively kisses him, and promptly forgets all about it.
Markus is a man worthy of the term "non-descript", with a noodle-limp body and an unusual sense of dress. For him the kiss turns everything upside down, invading his every thought and action. He yearns to understand what has just taken place.
But for Natalie the kiss was "like modern art". There was nothing to say, no explanation to be given. It just was.
Still, Markus sets out to win her heart. What follows is something of an anatomy of attraction, as Foenkinos dissects what it is that draws one to another in defiance of logic or reason, the foolish things one might do for love, and the perils of over-analysing another's words or actions.
It's an introspective book, full of internal dialogue, miniscule movements and poignant observations. It is also funny, as Markus' oddball sense of humour continues to surprise both Natalie and the reader. As she puts it, "You never knew what he was going to say. The words in his brain seemed like lotto balls before they came out of the machine."
The story explores the mechanics of workplace attraction, the suffocating nature of gossip and intrigue and the potential power of a boss with a personal agenda.
It's a relatively quick read, with short chapters broken into blocks of ideas, and interspersed with lists, quotations, lyrics, references to works of art, or extraneous facts related to the story. Thinking points if you will, reminiscent of Nick Hornby. Some seem random or obscure, others poignant or amusing.
Delicacy was the first book ever to be nominated for all five major French literary prizes and will soon be released as a major film, starring Audrey Tautou of Amélie fame.
This is the first of Foenkinos' books to be translated into English and, while it's difficult to judge the quality of a translation without reading the original, Bruce Benderson's version reveals a light and playful use of language.
It's a delightful book, subtle, amusing and yes, delicate. Read it quick, before you're tempted to see the the film.
Have you read Delicacy? What are your thoughts?
- HERALD ONLINE