The Mystery of Henri Pick (Book Review)

This is a novel for book lovers. It is a book for anyone who needs to fall in love with reading again. It is a mystery for those who love to solve them and a comedy for anyone who needs a (Henri) Pick-me-up. Written by David Foenkinos, The Mystery of Henri Pick is a wonderful example of how an ensemble cast of characters can keep you guessing and keep you gripped.

Get cosy with Henri Pick.

The Plot in a Nutshell

The Mystery of Henri Pick follows various characters as they experience the publication of the fictional novel The Last Hours of a Love Affair.

Delphine, a young literary agent, and her boyfriend (and author) Frederic visit the library of unpublished manuscripts in Crozon and discover the The Last Hours of a Love Affair by “Henri Pick” who they learn is a local. Pick, however, died two years prior. After gaining permission from Pick’s widow, Madeleine, the book is published and quickly becomes a sensation.

It blew me away. And it was written in such a strange style, simple and poetic at the same time.

Dephine talking about The Last Hours of a Love Affair

But who is this mysterious dead author? What was Henri Pick’s life like? Could this pizzeria owner really have written such a beautiful novel? Slowly but surely, Pick’s novel starts to change everyone’s lives, from Delphine and Feredric to Madeleine and her daughter Justine and journalist Jean-Michel Rouche, who’s not so sure Pick is the author at all. Not to mention Magali who works at the (now famous) library.

What will be uncovered as these characters navigate their changed lives? And will Rouche ever solve the mystery of Henri Pick?

The gorgeous cover.

What I Thought

As someone who has been trying (and failing) to get a book published, I was immediately drawn in by the opening location – a library of books in Crozon, full of unpublished manuscripts. A sort of romantic, French version of self-publishing a Kindle e-book. Established by the literature obsessed Jean-Pierre Gourvec, the library seemed like a place I myself would spend hours in. It made me miss the library that I work in myself.

Everyone could love reading, as long as they had the right book in their hands, a book that spoke to them, a book they could not bear to part with.

Jean-Pierre Gourvec on books.

However, it was in the second part of the novel that I realised this is a book about the book world! Stuck in quarantine it’s hard to feel connected to the literary universe, and this is where I was hooked. This is also where we’re introduced to the relationship between Delphine and Frederic, and it’s one that I recognised: a young couple in love, stumbling through a tough but beautiful relationship.

I love the way Foenkinos switches perspectives, sometimes within the same paragraph, it gives you a sense of how the characters are feeling together and about each other, which is so important when you’re exploring a relationship (or a whole host of them).

He pretended that he was happy to have seen her again … He hasn’t changed, she thought…

A shortened example of how Foenkinos uses this perspective changing device.

Foenkinos also uses careful but effective descriptions, allowing the reader to fill in the blanks themselves, imaging Brittany how they would imagine it. For example, for me there are boats. I’ve never actually been to Brittany, but for some reason there are sail boats.

In terms of characters, my favourite is Madeleine, Henri Pick’s widow. She’s the sort of old lady I aspire to be: headstrong, funny a little silly. I also like that Foenkinos introduces so many small characters, and doesn’t focus on a “protagonist”, it really getting across the idea that the whole of France is obsessed with Pick’s novel.

This is such an original and brave idea. So many novels leave books out of their world, avoiding the complications that books within books bring up. Foenkinos, on the other hand, turns this on its head and dives headfirst into literature, book-selling, libraries, publishers, journalists, authors and readers. It almost felt real – I too wanted to read Pick’s novel.

And the ending? Well, you won’t be disappointed.

The Mystery of Henri Pick is published by Pushkin Press and Walter Presents. You can get it from Waterstones or Amazon.

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