Herve Le Tellier and Adriana Hunter team up again Hunter previously translated his novel, Enough About Love The title of this book borrows from the opening line of Anna Karenina, All happy families are alike each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, and lurks in the background of this entire book Le Tellier tells us about his time growing up in Paris, living mostly with his mother and stepfather but mostly being raised by this grandparents He shares his family tree, divulging a bit about their inner lives of his biological and adopted families He does this with the distanced afforded by old age also the passing of his father and stepfather and the dementia of his mother , tender honesty, and dry humor At the heart of this tale of a mother with undiagnosed mental illness, an enabling servile stepfather, and an absentee father is a stance against the notion that children must love their parents regardless of whether the parents are worthy of love I was impressed by how Tellier was not preachy nor bitter He was neither physically abused, robbed of opportunity, nor encouraged to a sordid life By all accounts, his upbringing was unremarkable and so normal His parents like all parents had flaws, and he simply didn t have a loving relationship with them This is quite a common experience This is what makes this memoir so worthy of praise Parents, especially mothers, are revered, which is understandable and in many cases deserved, but it leaves little room for one to share that they are not close to their parent s When someone does reveal that they are met with well intented suspicion What did you do But that s your mom dad How could you not love them I love that this is titled, All Happy Families because although Tolstoy asserts that all happy families are alike, in actuality all families are like in the way that Le Tellier is describing Parents are imperfect and are supposed to be loved irrespective of personality and behavior This memoir was at times sober, critical, and flat out funny I read this book in 24 hours I laughed for most of that time Le Tellier is a fantastic storyteller I think this is the best memoir for its capture of a quietly whispered but well lived truth.
All Happy Families wasn t the memoir I was hoping it would be Le Tellier is upfront from the beginning, letting us know that he doesn t feel love for his parents I was therefore expecting a heartfelt exploration into all the whys and wherefores of his troubled childhood Instead, we simply got a recital of the family tree with some anecdotes about things that were said and done.
Don t get me wrong, Herve s family was pretty ghastly His mother would now be diagnosed with a pretty major personality disorder and his step father with codependency His biological father obviously spent the rest of his just being grateful that he got out Herve had lots of very good reasons to distance himself from the family of his birth as soon as he could, but the problem was, he also kept us, the reader, at a distance.
Memoirs, these days, are expected to provide various psychological insights as well as catharsis for the author One of the very best that I ve read in recent times is, Nadja Spiegleman s I m Supposed to Protect You From All This Le Tellier s book has obviously been cathartic for him, but I didn t feel like I got to know him at all His lack of curiosity about why his mother and other family members acted the way they did was, well, curious This complete detachment was no doubt his survival technique, but I wanted him to draw this bow too and show us how he had embraced his life away from the parental home How does one go on to develop empathy, caring kindness and healthy relationships when one has a childhood lacking in all of the above Full review here This is the memoir of French author, Herve Le Tellier In this small volume we encounter his parents, step parents and grandparents, all, like all of us, flawed individuals Scrape the surface of most families and you will find some degree of dysfunction and this is Le Tellier s attempt to come to terms with his own unstraightforward upbringing Writing as catharsis can often make for tedious reading but in this instance, that is not the case.
I did enjoy what amounts to little than a collection of anecdotes, fragments of a fractured life, an author s attempt to address issues from childhood when the main protagonists are either dead or demented However, the chapter where he writes about the loss of his partner and their unborn child really stands out It is heartfelt and written with such understated poignancy that it feels totally different to the remainder of the book and somehow authentic.
Despite the unhappy nature of much of the narrative, Le Tellier avoids the worst trait of misery memoir writing his ego is missing and there is no sense of poor me Indeed, it would take a hard hearted reader not to feel sympathy for him, but he does not actively seek it.
Le Tellier writes well but sometimes the translation is clunky and I suspect potential humour is lost in translation The narrative is not told in a linear fashion which can lead to avoidable confusion and repetition at times That said, I was not familiar with Le Tellier s fiction before reading this book but am now prompted to seek it out.
This was my first book by this author and I am glad that it was his memoir He is open and raw about his family and his experiences growing up His style of writing is beautiful and profound even with this being a translated work He also has a dry sense of humor that is sprinkled throughout I recommend this book.
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