Publication Date: Mar 26, 2019
A prominent French writer delves into his own history in this eloquent reflection on dysfunctional family relationships.
Hervé Le Tellier did not consider himself to have been an unhappy child—he was not deprived, or beaten, or abused. And yet he understood from a young age that something was wrong, and longed to leave. Children sometimes have only the option of escaping, driven by their even greater love of life.
Having reached a certain emotional distance at sixty years old, and with his father and stepfather dead and his mother suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, Le Tellier finally felt able to write the story of his family. Abandoned early by his father and raised in part by his grandparents, he was profoundly affected by his relationship with his mother, a troubled woman with damaging views on love.
In this perceptive, deeply personal account, Le Tellier attempts to look back on trying times without anger or regret, and sometimes even with humor.
Excerpt from All Happy Families
You could argue that plenty of old people die alone, when their friends have died off before them one by one. But friends were something my parents didn’t have. As a child, I was not surprised that no one, other than my grandparents and various cousins, ever visited us at home. For coffee, tea, or dinner. To a child, in the absence of any points of comparison, madness can appear to be the norm: after all, Romulus and Remus weren’t in the least amazed to be raised by a she-wolf, Mowgli by a bear, or Tarzan by great apes. It was only later that I became aware of how strange my normality was.
It’s fair to say that early on in their marriage, my mother and stepfather rented a very small Paris apartment, not very conducive to entertaining. But when I was nine they moved into a “character” apartment, as the ads like to call them, with a large tree-lined terrace looking out over the noisy boulevard Barbès and boulevard Ornano. It had unobstructed views of Montmartre and the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. This picture-postcard setting could have made it a party venue, revolutionizing their social life. Nothing changed.
Occasionally—but this was very rare—my parents were invited for a meal by, let’s call them acquaintances. I never saw my mother come home from one of these dinners anything but dissatisfied, disgruntled even. She would complain irritably, “To think we’ll have to return the invitation.”
My mother did not invite, she “returned” invitations.
“Moving…The writing is unquestionably sincere.” —Kirkus Reviews
“All Happy Families pulls apart the fabric of a dysfunctional family to show its underpinnings, complex and heartbreaking, delicate and nuanced…Le Tellier’s masterful writing does his characters justice while not letting them go unscathed, and his ability to see his life and his family with tenderness and love is a blueprint for how we can continue in the face of our pasts. A tender and moving read, its stories stayed with me long after the last page.” —Tanya Marquardt, author of Stray: Memoir of a Runaway
Praise for Eléctrico W:
“An engaging snapshot of these [characters’] briefly intersecting lives.” —New York Times Book Review
“Romantic and atmospheric, this novel also benefits from a particularly fine sense of place and time…witty, sad, and interesting.” —Publishers Weekly
“Delicate handling of deep themes–loss, missed connections, meaninglessness–gives the novel an emotional charge.” —Kirkus Reviews