*Winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters*
A "breathtaking" (Jennifer Egan) century-spanning portrait of the inhabitants of a French village, revealing the deception, despair, love, and longing beneath the calm surface of ordinary lives.
What if our homes could tell the stories of others who lived there before us? Set in a small village near Paris, The Balcony follows the inhabitants of a single estate-including a manor and a servants' cottage-over the course of several generations, from the Belle Époque to the present day, introducing us to a fascinating cast of characters. A young American au pair develops a crush on her brilliant employer. An ex-courtesan shocks the servants, a Jewish couple in hiding from the Gestapo attract the curiosity of the neighbors, and a housewife begins an affair while renovating her downstairs. Rich and poor, young and old, powerful and persecuted, all of these people are seeking something: meaning, love, a new beginning, or merely survival.
Throughout, cross-generational connections and troubled legacies haunt the same spaces, so that the rose garden, the forest pond, and the balcony off the manor's third floor bedroom become silent witnesses to a century of human drama.
In her debut, Jane Delury writes with masterful economy and profound wisdom about growing up, growing old, marriage, infidelity, motherhood - in other words, about life - weaving a gorgeous tapestry of relationships, life-altering choices, and fleeting moments across the frame of the twentieth century. A sumptuous narrative of place that burrows deep into individual lives to reveal hidden regrets, resentments, and desires, The Balcony is brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown and Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Jane Delury's fiction has appeared in Narrative, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, The Yale Review, and Glimmer Train. She has received a PEN/O. Henry Prize, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Story Award, a VCCA fellowship, and grants from the Maryland State Arts Council. She holds an MA in literary studies from the University of Grenoble, France, and an MA in fiction from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. She teaches in the University of Baltimore's MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts program.
Table of Contents
Au Pair 3
A Place in the Country 61
Nothing of Consequence 115
Half Life 132
The Pond 163
Tintin in the Antilles 178
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reading through the synopsis again makes me question exactly what book I read because it doesn't sound like the one I read and the synopsis for it are the same book. For one thing, the book is anything but linear. So the whole "over the course of several generations" thing is a bit misleading. It does cross generations, but you have to figure out to what era you have jumped from section to section. We start out near present-day and then shift back in time and then forward, and then back again. There are references to World War II that provide somewhat of an anchor but only slightly. Often, it is not until a particular section is almost over before you connect the events occurring or characters in one section with a previous one. So while the setting never changes, the stories are only loosely connected. The shifts in time as well as seemingly unrelated characters make this feel more like short stories rather than one particular novel. To muddle things even more, the stories are not exciting. There is no lesson to learn, no mystery to solve. These stories are about life. Some may be a bit more interesting than others, but they all progress with a placidity that causes your interest to wane. It is not that the writing is poor. If anything, the writing is such that it tries too hard to make something out of nothing. For example, in one section, there is much made of a mother taking black market goods and burying them. Given the vividness of this scene, one expects these goods to become a big deal in a later section. Alas, the only thing we learn about these goods is how fifty years later a construction worker doing improvements to the estate discovered them, rusted and desiccated beyond appeal. There are many other examples of anti-climax like this to which your only response is literally "meh." Granted, this could all be me and my impatience at the lack of connection and at the slowness of each section. It could be me struggling once again to recognize the value of literary fiction. It could even be me expecting too much from this loose collection of short stories. However, I think not. I do believe the bare bones for a decent story exist within the pages of The Balcony, but the execution leaves much for improvement.
The story begins with Brigitte who is heading to France to be an au pair for Elodie, the daughter of Hugo and Olga Boyer at their estate near Paris. With her master’s degree in French and the description of the position, she is delighted to accept. However, the estate and the location turn out not to be as advertised. It is a run down building and nothing has been done to cleanup the town after the ravages of the war. Elodie is a pretty little four-year-old and is so happy that Brigitte is there to be with her. Hugo is a writer who taught at the Sorbonne. He and Olga met there when she was working as a librarian. Their marriage is not good. Hugo is an alcoholic who relapses now and then and Olga is very worried about Elodie’s health. At the end of her time with the Boyer family, Brigitte moves to Paris and meets a man whom she marries. She has two children and teaches at a Lycée. Next, the story focuses on Yvette Mongrain who works on the Leger estate and is married to Gustave, the head gardner. The story follows another family whose sons are grown. One refuses to return to his parents home so his brother must be the one to keep up a relationship with their father who is a hard man. This son is married with two children of his own. Sadly, the grandfather is hard on them as well. Various vignettes switch back and forth in time but they all center around the estate which is quite old. I stayed with the story simply because I lived in France and so many of the descriptions are familiar to me. In addition, I enjoyed the challenge of understanding the French in the book. Other than that, I think the average reader may find this to be somewhat boring and depressing. Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
There is no consistency in the story. It was waste of time.