I’d come across this novel every now and then in bookstores and it seemed like an interesting and funny read, but I’d probably never have bought it if it hadn’t been available once on a book sale at a ridiculously low price. And I’m not saying that it would have been a terrible and huge loss in my life if I hadn’t read this book because it’s definitely not something of a life-changing novel – but it’s not a bad story at all.
The protagonist (but, despite the first person singular title, a little bit strangely, not the narrator) of the novel is Hector, the archetypal good boy. He’s the one who obediently eats up all his mother’s soup even if he’s not hungry; the one who engages in nice chit-chat with the neighbors in the elevator; the one who’s loved by everyone at his workplace because he always has such an obliging smile on his face; and the one who can even understand a David Lynch movie when he’s in the right mood. However, there’s a dark passion in Hector’s life: he is a collector (just think about John Fowles’ novel for a minute if you want to know how dark and scary this can be). In the course of his life he has been collecting everything ranging from badges to sandwich pins, but none of his collections satisfy his for a long time, so he has a major life-crisis and finally attempts to commit suicide.
After the unsuccessful suicide attempt, he meets the lovely Brigitte and fall in love with her. Brigitte is the kind of woman who makes you think about having a nice cup of tea – and this is absolutely fine with Hector. They shortly get married, and the passion of his love even makes Hector forget about his passion of collecting things. Everything goes just fine until one day Hector catches a glimpse of his wife while she is cleaning the windows – and this chance glimpse drives the sexual life of the couple in a whole new direction.
Well, as you may guess, this is a very funny book. Foenkinos writes with a truly amiable irony and mock naivety about a bunch of strange-ordinary people and basically more sad than funny topics – such as the potentially harmful passions and manias; the pointless family and other relationships which are based on illusions, misunderstanding and intentional deceptions; or about the basic urge to make some children if you feel that you’re a failure in life, because it will surely help.
This could probably have been a very cynical or tragic story, but Foenkinos went in another direction: he simply tells an absurd, often fairy tale-like story, and offers his humorous comments on everything. His style and the way he chooses to see the world often reminds me of the style and world view of Erlend Loe and Kurt Vonnegut: just like them, Foenkinos likes to write about small things and ordinary (ordinarily crazy) people; he is ironic and mischievous; he likes to fool around and likes to offer some social commentary/criticism; but he never says anything offending, and he doesn’t seem like someone who takes himself too seriously. So, for me he is definitely likeable.
There’s just one thing I’m not sure about this novel, and this annoys me a bit (because I can’t explain it): the strange discrepancy between the title and the narrative style. I don’t see why the title is in the first person singular when the story is told in the third person singular; and I don’t see why the narrator telling about Hector sometimes switches to the first person plural in a couple of sentences – I see no good reason for these switches. I’m not interested in what Foenkinos „wanted to say” with this – I’m interested in the fact that I cannot explain it – and I like to think that everything should mean something in literature. Anyway, it may be that the author’s mock naivety and simple style is just a trick, and the novel is in fact much more complex than I think. If this is the case, Foenkinos definitely managed to trick me big-time.