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Happy People Read & Drink Coffee by Agnès Martin-Lugand

by Catherine Van Bergen (follow)
Fiction (327)      Romance (25)      Grief (9)      Drama (6)      French (1)      Translation (1)      Ireland (1)     


Diane seems to have it all- she has a loving husband, Colin, and young daughter, Clara, and owns a literary café in the heart of Paris- Happy People Read & Drink Coffee. Even though her business isn’t doing that well financially, she is satisfied with her life and all that it promises. But when Colin and Clara are killed in a tragic car accident, Diane’s once charming life is shattered. She changes from a feisty Frenchwoman into a withdrawn recluse, and swaps her days working in the bookshop into days of smoking, moping and drinking. The only person she sees on a regular basis is her long-time friend and business partner Felix, and that’s only because he has keys to her apartment. Following the one year anniversary of Colin’s and Clara’s deaths, Diane’s depression is so deep that Felix becomes concerned and tries to encourage her to live a little.

Desperate to get him off her back so she can continue to grieve in peace, Diane decides to move to Ireland (a place her husband always wanted to go) and escape the pressures of her family and friends in Paris. Moving to the remote seaside town of Mulranny, she meets Abby, her new landlord, and all of the friendly citizens in town. But there is one citizen who is neither friendly nor polite, her new neighbour Edward. A brooding photographer, he shows his unexplained resentment towards Diane from the start and she can’t help but feel agitated whenever he is around. But as their lives begin to intersect, they find themselves drawn towards one another…

There have been many successful English translations of novels in recent years- from Scandinavian crime/thrillers to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series- but I am sorry to say that this is not one of them. Even though it has been touted as an international bestseller, and the film rights for the novel have been sold, the actual English translation of this book was not quite to my taste. If you want to read a romantic novel I’d recommend reading something written by Nicholas Sparks over this- they at least have some substance. The characters in this book feel clichéd, and it’s difficult to determine just how Diane and Edward’s relationship suddenly changes from hateful one minute, to tender the next. There is no gradual lead-up, just an abrupt jump. Most romance or drama writers manage to project at least an undercurrent of sexual tension which leads to a passionate relationship between their main characters, but that doesn’t even happen in this novel. It seems the only thing that Edward and Diane have in common (besides living within a few hundred metres of one another) is their mutual affection for Edward’s dog Postman Pat. Their relationship is strained at best, and mostly disinterested, yet readers are expected to accept their sudden relationship?

The editing of this novel is also a little bit sloppy, with no paragraph breaks to determine when a new scene is beginning. A few times, I read a paragraph only to discover that it was suddenly the next day and Diane was involved in an entirely different activity to what she was doing only moments before. This had the disconcerting effect of making me feel that I had missed something, even though there was obviously nothing missed. The sudden jump between scenes, with no warning, was made even more confusing when the scenes crossed from day to night (or vice versa) because it meant trying to work out the context of the storyline in comparison to what you had read previously.

It also seems that the storyline is not only thing that was lost in translation- the cover art for the novel, which features a stereotypical Amelie-type brunette who we presume is Diane, looks nothing like the blonde Diane that is identified in the novel. The fact that her hair colour is different clearly shows that little thought was put into how the French-to-English translation of this novel was planned. The uncomfortable editing, unfitting imagery and lukewarm storyline all conspire against what could potentially have been an interesting novel. Hopefully the anticipated Hollywood film will be better.


Rating: 2.5/5
Published: May 2016

#Fiction
#Romance
#Drama
#French
#Translation
#Grief
#Ireland
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