Book reviews by Mobilism's Book Review team
Sep 2nd, 2020, 10:02 pm

TITLE: The Mystery of Henri Pick
AUTHOR: David Foenkinos
GENRE: Fiction > Mystery/Thriller
RATING: ★★★★☆


Description: In the small town of Crozon in Brittany, a library houses manuscripts that were rejected for publication: the faded dreams of aspiring writers. Visiting while on holiday, young editor Delphine Despero is thrilled to discover a novel so powerful that she feels compelled to bring it back to Paris to publish it.

The book is a sensation, prompting fevered interest in the identity of its author - apparently one Henri Pick, a now-deceased pizza chef from Crozon. Skeptics cry that the whole thing is a hoax: how could this man have written such a masterpiece? An obstinate journalist, Jean-Michel Rouche, heads to Brittany to investigate.

By turns funny and moving, The Mystery of Henri Pick is a fast-paced comic mystery enriched by a deep love of books - and of the authors who write them.

Review: The Mystery of Henri Pick was quite a ride for me to read. In it, you will end up lost most probably within the literary universe and its many issues. The book within a book sub-genre is nothing new but there is so much more to this novel's story. You can expect plot twists, a varied range of characters, and a consistent plot based on a real piece of news. A library of rejected books.

You can easily spend a couple of entertaining days trying to solve this French mystery before the author reveals his true intentions. He will do it by immersing his readers in the literary world. What it takes to publish a book and what is more interesting, what could happen if your book gets published but has no interest to the general public.
“Publishing a novel that nobody reads is like encountering the world’s indifference in person”.

Failure, success, fame… the list is long and interesting.

Other topics included in the story that might appeal to you: ambitions, personal relationships between parents and sons or daughters and couple relationships, readers, lies, jealousy, depression, solitude. You will have both positive and negative consequences of human interactions. The one topic that really caught my eye was the dilemma of publishing someone’s post-humous works. If one of your loved ones would die (God forbid) and left behind a masterpiece, would you publish it straight ahead or would you be more reserved considering its contents? Above all, he talks about the consequences of this way of seeing the literary world.

As a whole, The Mystery of Henri Pick offers a great portrait of this cultural universe and how it works: Bestsellers, publishing houses, literary reviews, critics, mass media, fame, anonymous writers, cinema adaptations of literary works… all these problems and in not even 200 pages. I also love that for such a French portrait (Renault, crêpes, lack of pleasantries…) it is not essentially based in Paris but in Brittany. The scenery in Crozon makes you feel on holiday even if you read this book during your lunch break.

Moreover, I was not expecting so many different personal events in such a short book. The characters are very well defined and have relatable lives. For example, a good definition of a character can be found when talking about the creator of the library of rejected books in France:
“Gourvec looked like someone with a very short fuse. But in fact he was calm, thoughtful person, from whom words had a meaning and a destination”.

“Little was known about his life, other than the fact that he lived alone. He had been married in the 1950s, but his wife had left him after only a few weeks and nobody knew why”.

Or the description of Magali, his helper at the library:
“Magali was not particularly fond of reading but, as the mother of two young boys, she needed to find work as soon as possible”.

Their amorous relationships were sometimes a bit disappointing in the sense that they were quite mundane and stereotypical and, to be honest, even bizarre in some chapters. For example:
“She dressed the way he wanted, so that he would undress her the way she wanted”.

A bit of 50 Shades of... Plain in my opinion. Or when referring to an ex-girlfriend:
“…the smell of whose armpits he remembered perfectly”.

And for this one I have no words:
“I’m warning you, Frédéric. If you decide to publish this book, I’ll have an abortion.”

Repetition of certain issues is also one of the few unappealing aspects of the story. Good and bad readers, literally mechanical sex as the author describes it repeatedly, not expressing real feelings, couples married and divorced and then couples one more time, awkwardness in human interaction and one of the keys of this book, telling lies. However, this last aspect of lying although repetitive is also one of the more interesting themes in the book. Is the author messing with us at some point? Is anybody else lying to us readers? To what extent is it worth lying? And lie to ourselves so as to achieve what we desire?
“Readers always find themselves in a book, in one way or another. Reading is a completely egotistical pleasure. Unconsciously we expect books to speak to us”.

Some of my other favourite quotes in the book are:
“Much more so than for the other arts, which are figurative, there is a constant hunt for the personal in literature. Unlike Gustave Flaubert with his Emma, Leonardo da Vinci could never say: “The Mona Lisa is me”.

“Her ex-husband called her occasionally too, to ask how she was, but it felt like a chore, like a sort of post-break-up aftersales service”.

“Born to a poor family, and having lived through the war, Madeleine considered crying over love to be a privilege of the modern world”.

“Our era is generally on the hunt for the truth behind everything, particularly fiction”.

“…tangible proof that our era was edging towards a complete domination of form over substance”.

“He felt alive as he drove; sometimes, you have to let a landscape unfold before your eyes in order to be certain that you exist”.

Just when you thought the story came to a closure… ¡BANG! comes a plot twist so I would advise you not to come to conclusions early on, or maybe I’m just messing with you as a reader. Just like the author.

I definitely recommend this book to an adult international public. All in all, a masterful way of narrating a story about a story.
Sep 2nd, 2020, 10:02 pm
Sep 4th, 2020, 12:42 am
Thanks for the review!
Not the usual kind of book that would capture my interest, but you have made me consider giving it a ride.
Sep 4th, 2020, 12:42 am

My Favourite/Recommended Book series:
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, The Culture Series by Iain M. Banks, The Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe