Three Small and Grim New French Novels

Voilà, les Petits Livres! These new books don't get fat—or happy.

His parents' dark history: Prix Goncourt winner Philippe Grimbert
O. Roller
His parents' dark history: Prix Goncourt winner Philippe Grimbert

Details

Memory
By Philippe Grimbert
Translated by Polly McLean
Simon & Schuster, 152 pp. $19.95

Mercury Under My Tongue
By Sylvain Trudel
Translated by Sheila Fischman
Soft Skull, 159 pp., $13.95

The Waitress Was New
By Dominique Fabre
Translated by Jordan Stump
Archipelago Books, 117 pp., $15

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Pierre, the hero of Dominique Fabre's The Waitress Was New, is a barman at a café in the French suburbs—it's his job to ensure that stomachs are full and the bread unburnt. Pierre recounts a few days in his life that encompass the closing of the café where he's worked for so long. Unmarried, childless, with only a few friends, Pierre locates his meager sense of self-worth in his work. "You really are a useful thing in other people's lives when you're a barman," he muses. "The customers don't realize it outright, of course, but when all's said and done, in good times and bad, there's always a bar in their lives, and a barman, a bit wizened but very professional, to serve them whatever they want." Alas, the book's plot deprives Pierre of his job and leaves him alone and adrift with his discursive thoughts. At 117 pages, it's the slimmest of the three novels, and easily the slightest, a scant portrait of a man bereft of self-awareness. But it does put one in mind of the proper remedy for three depressing novels. Pierre, give me a Lillet. And don't be stingy, baby.

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