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Eight Intriguing Contemporary Fables
on 7 February 2012
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is a playwright, a novelist and a writer of short stories; he is one of Europe's most popular authors and has been awarded the French Academy's Grand Prix du Theatre. `The Most Beautiful Book in the World' is described on the book's cover as being a collection of eight novellas - although I feel that the term short stories would be a more accurate description of this wonderful selection of contemporary fables.
The title story `The Most Beautiful Book in the World' takes the reader to a women's gulag in Stalinist Russia. The women are desperate to smuggle out letters to their daughters and, in order to accomplish this, they have removed the cigarette papers from their tobacco ration and hidden them until they have something with which to write. When a new prisoner arrives in the ward, and the other women discover she has smuggled in a pencil, they are now ready to write their messages; although it is not quite as easy at that. As each woman has a limit on the amount of words they can use, not one of them can think of what is the most important thing to write. Finally the woman who is "the most scatterbrained of them all" is the first to write her message down - and when the other women see what she has written, there is a collective sigh of relief, for now the other women know what to write for their daughters. What on earth has she written...?
In another story `A Fine Rainy Day' we meet a young woman who, in her search for perfection, laments the fact that her figure - although acknowledged to be beautifully shaped - is not perfectly symmetrical; she worries that her lovers - although initially seeming the perfect mate for her - always fall short of her ideal. However, when she meets Antoine, who always makes the very best of everything, she begins to wonder if while she has been searching relentlessly for happiness, she has missed that very thing right in front of her. It takes a tragedy and several years of searching before she is able to understand what Antoine already instinctively knew.
This is an imaginative and intriguing collection of stories which move from everyday occurrences to the rather unusual, with each tale containing the simple, but often overlooked truth, that happiness is there for those who look in the right places. I bought this collection to keep in the car so that I could read a little of it here and there, but once I had read the first story, I took it out of the car (and straight to the sofa with a glass of wine) and just carried on reading. I very much enjoyed these short stories and I am now looking to see what else Amazon has to offer by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.