This little book, Un homme à distance, only 160 pages long, is a real gem. I was so enchanted by it. In the evenings I could hardly wait to get back from work and go on reading. Why it has not been translated is a total mystery to me as it would find a multitude of readers in the English-speaking world. It is also surprising since Katherine Pancol lived in the States where she took creative writing courses at the Columbia University. It is a novel in letters and a novel about books that has been compared to 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. We find the same passion for books, the same enchantment. The story is quite simple. A young woman, owner of a book shop in Fécamp (a fishing port with an attractive seafront promenade located between Le Havre and Dieppe, in the French Normandy region), starts a correspondence with a mysterious man. They exchange their thoughts on all sorts of books, some I had never heard of before but, as a true addict, had to buy immediately since I knew the others and they are all outstanding.
The tone of this novel is quite melancholic. The young shopkeeper is heartbroken about the end of an affair which makes her live like a recluse. This correspondence brings her back to life. The end stunned me. It was not what I had expected.
Let’s hope she will be translated or that the one or the other reader of this post does read French.
As many of the books mentioned are absolute favourites of mine and the others seem to be must-reads too and for all those who are curious, I made a list.
Contrary to Pancol’s books they are all available as translations.
The only one that has not been translated is Confidence africaine by Roger Martin du Gard.
One that would need to be rediscovered is The Lost Estate. It is probably the novel that influenced Fitzgerald in writing The Great Gatsby. But, as stated before, all the books on this list are excellent and remarkable.
Katherine Pancol has written quite a lot of books. They have all been very successful in France, even more so than this one. The most notable seem to be Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles, La valse lente des tortues and Les écureuils du Central Park sont triste le lundi.
You can visit Katherine´s French/English Homepage.