FICTION

The Readers’ Room

Gallic. Sept. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9781910477960. $19.95; pap. ISBN 9781910477977. $15.95. F
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The acid-soaked satire of Michel Houellebecq meets the metafictional whimsy of Jasper Fforde in this slight but witty send-up of the publishing world from French author Laurain (The Red Notebook). Violaine Lepage is the literary director of a boutique publisher in Paris that has rescued a surprise masterpiece off the slush pile. Now, Sugar Flowers, a debut crime novel by Camille Désencres, is in the running for the prestigious Prix Goncourt. One problem: Nobody in her firm has ever heard of Camille Désencres, and Violaine can’t get the author to commit to appearing at the award ceremony—or anywhere else, for that matter. A bigger problem: Sugar Flowers appears to have foreseen with unerring accuracy a series of murders that has brought the attention of a world-weary detective to the readers’ room. Laurain unspools his mystery of the elusive writer and the clairvoyant novel alongside a number of erudite and surely hard-earned observations about the industry, though the teetering back and forth between whodunit and satire costs his characters the depth that would have made this work more memorable.
VERDICT For fans of book-centered novels such as Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry craving a slightly harder edge.

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