A powerful portrait of a paternal relationship,
This review is from: L'Americain (Folio) (Mass Market Paperback)
I had never heard of Franz-Olivier Giesbert before I read this book, and wasn't in the least aware of his high public profile in France. In fact I bought it quite casually, initially thinking it might be a WW2 memoir due to the cover. In actual fact it is a powerful portrait of the troubled relationship between the author and his father, which is both highly readable and strangely involving.
Giesbert is not afraid to expose the strong emotions he felt, and, I get the impression, still feels to some extent towards his parents: contempt and hatred for his violence-prone father, love and compassion for his mother, and profound regret for never building bridges with his father whilst he still could. He describes his father's violent episodes in chilling detail, but this is not an account which dwells unduly on paternal violence. We see the squalid effects of this violence on the young Giesbert, how he makes his life's aim the mental destruction of his father, how he extracts his vengeance in every important choice in life he makes, how his desire for revenge made him blind to his father's pleas for reconciliation, and the possible father-son relationship he was shunning. There is a profound feeling of regret which runs through the entire book and seems to colour every page and every memory.
Giesbert writes very clearly and eloquently, he is clearly gifted at portraying sentiments and impressions, as well as in creating a narrative which pulls the reader in, with a good economy of word: very little here is superfluous. The net result is a highly readable and engaging text. The account is roughly chronological but the author doesn't hesitate to spend time colouring scenes of everyday life, giving body and personality to the characters in his account, and adding touching and very human glimpses into his family life in rural Normandy.
This book is highly charged with different emotions: pain, hatred, contempt, love, compassion, all imbued with a deep sense of regret and guilt. This is a highly personal account of one particular man's youth and his relationship with his father, but the themes are common to all men, and as such it's an account I think many people can engage with.