Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Sun for the DyingA Sun for the Dying by Izzo Jean-Claude Curtis Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"That night, Rico decided to leave Paris. If he was going to die, he might as well die in the sun."

I did not have an easy time reading Jean-Claude Izzo's A Sun for the Dying (1999). More than a half of the novel is written in an annoyingly didactic style, with the tone alternating between preachy and slightly patronizing. At the end of each short chapter I was almost expecting to see questions - for book club readers - about what the author wanted to convey in the chapter. Fortunately, I persisted in reading on and the last third of the novel unexpectedly hit me with real literary artistry: memorable scenes, touching themes, and some beautiful prose. And while excessive sentimentality and mushiness dominate the ending of the book, at least the author seems to be treating the reader as a grown-up.

Rico - in the past a successful salesman, a member of financially secure middle class, owner of an expensive home, happy husband of a beautiful woman and a proud father - has gradually lost everything he had and loved. Whatever calamity was possible to happen did happen to him - yes, partly because of wrong choices he made, but mainly because of adversity of fortune - and he found himself at the very bottom of society. He is now homeless in Paris, lives on the street, begs for money, suffers from a serious lung disease and is an alcoholic. When his best friend freezes to death sleeping in the metro station, Rico decides to move to Marseilles, the city of eternal sun, the city where he really loved for the first time and where he spent some of the best days of his life with the beautiful and loving Léa.

Rico reminisces about the life he once had and the women he once loved. His travel south is a quest to recapture the lost past, the past full of happiness and promise. He makes new friends on the road, and even meets a woman who becomes - totally unexpectedly - maybe the truest love of his life. (By the way, the tender love scene devoid of any sexual overtones, is to me the best passage in the novel.) The author turns out quite skillful in manipulating the reader's emotions because even this reviewer, a disillusioned and diehard cynic, had tears in his eyes.

Two and three quarter stars.

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