I received this book from Antoine Leiris and Harvill Secker via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review and would like to thank them for giving me this opportunity.
“I thought that if the moon ever disappeared, the sea would retreat so that no one would see it crying.”
I wish this book had never needed to have been written. It is a memoir following on from one of the most cold-hearted and insensitive random “religiously” influenced attacks on innocents in known recent history. The all too memorable and devastating attacks in Paris that haunted the news, literally. I say I wish it was never written – not because it is badly written or it is not very interesting to read – but because; if those attacks had never happened then our narrator Antoine would still have his wife Helene in the metaphorical photograph he discusses that was a perfect life that he lived up until that harrowing night – the picture also including 17-month-old child Melvil.
Antoine is a French journalist and was reading a novel at home on that night looking after his child. His wife was at The Eagles of Death Metal concert. Mr Leiris receives text messages saying :
“Are you safe?”
And then he turns on the news.
As this is a subject that we are so familiar with due to the fact we all watched it on the news intensely and couldn’t believe our eyes – I broke down in the first chapter remembering how I felt then; but the emotions were heightened 100% as we are placed inside the mind of someone whose life is devastatingly affected. As I mentioned, I actually started crying in chapter 1. That has never happened in a book to me before.
The memoir is written as ultimately a “train of thoughts” as we follow the horror of not knowing if your loved one was safe, realising the worst possible outcome was the reality and looking after a child who had always had his mama as a pivotal figure in the young and impressionable beginning stages of life.
You cannot “enjoy” a book like this – but that is the point. It is a memoir of emotions that I hope none of us have to ever feel. Adjusting to the highly unfortunate direction his life has gone; Antoine decides to write a Facebook post to express his state of mind and thoughts to the perpetrators of the macabre acts of that night. It went viral.
“You are the one who was hurt (Antoine) and yet it is you who gives us courage.”- was one of the many letters he received following this status update. The status is a fitting statement to the evilest of men who committed these crimes and if it wasn’t the catalyst then this was one of many statements and activities that brought the world together against the attackers and made us all stronger, fully united which could not have been “Islamic State’s” desire. I think that is one of the messages of the memoir.
This is stunningly written. A large majority of the poetic language is so colourfully heightened but highly poignant that you cannot help but almost sway along to the words like you are in a trance.
One of the saddest scenes is Antoine trying to express through photographs and music – to his 17 month-old child who can only say mama, papa and play – that his mama will not be coming home but that she is always with him and will be forever. That is one truly touching scene and although this is only a short book at 99 pages – we are presented many moments that are truly unnerving and despairing.
This book isn’t enjoyable as I stated. It needs to be read. I have to take a moment to give respect to Sam Taylor who translated this from French to English. I 100% recommended reading this as it is an insight into the aftermath of one of the most upsetting times of our lives.