Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Matchmaker of Périgord: A Novel - by Julia Stuart - 320 pages

Book CoverGuillaume Ladoucette is a barber with no customers. Since the arrival in town of a new barber (whose specialty in male hair design is called "the pine cone"), Guillaume's business has been in a slump. Despite his tremendous ability to cut and style hair and his great capacity to sell hairpieces and faux sideburns, the only customers that still visit his shop are balding. With almost no customers to grace his shop, he decides to remake himself as the small province's matchmaker, with hilarious results. The town, whose residents number only 32, are having their own problems when, after a water restriction imposed by the council, they are forced to bathe in a communal shower in the center of the square. Then there is the feud between Guillaume's mother and Madame Moreau, both women using comestibles as ammunition; and the return of Émilie Fraisse, Guillaume's long-pined-for love, who has purchased an ancient chateau complete with copious bat droppings. We also meet other unusual inhabitants of the town, such as Yves Lévèque, the town dentist, whose inability to find love is rivaled only by his pickyness; Stéphane Jollis, the culinarily competitive baker; and Sandrine Fournier, the assistant ambulant fishmonger and mushroom poisoner. With Guillaume's new profession comes problems that only a small town can have. The pickings are slim, and everyone is so acquainted with one another that they don't see love matches among themselves, making the matchmakers job all the harder. But work isn't his only problem, for after finding out that Émilie Fraisse is back in town, his heart is in a whirlwind and he must decide whether to confess his secret adoration of many years to her, or to remain silent and lose his chance at love. Add one chicken that can only be described as a hooligan, and you have the delightful and curiously entertaining story of The Matchmaker of Périgord.

I absolutely loved this book. It was quirky and unique and very cleverly comic. I loved the small touches that the author used to give it flavor, such as using the first and last names of all the characters at all times, and the reiteration of plot points throughout the story. This was a very verbose story, but I found that I didn't mind the packed pages at all. The author has a wonderful way of generously using her words with the effect that the townspeople and their situations came alive. The plot was deliciously fleshed out but not convoluted, and the humor was more cerebral than slapstick. At times I was astonished at the level of detail that went into this story, and though it is a comedic book, it is also a very literary one. This is not a book that you can let your mind wander over; it requires some attention to keep the myriad characters straight, but it was not a bothersome task at all. Though some of the plot elements were a little far-fetched, I found I was won over by the inventiveness of the story. The description of the foodstuffs in this book were wonderful as well. Some of the things that were eaten I had never heard of being consumable before, and although I wouldn't want to taste some of them, reading about them was a treat. In particular, the sections regarding the picnic basket competitions between Guillaume and Stéphane were surprising and fantastical, and I found myself wanting to share them with whoever would listen. Another great touch was the characterizations in this book, all of which were very developed and multi-layered. Each of the complex characters had their own back story, quirks, and particular behaviors. It was a very eclectic mix of people and situations, and it must have been a huge job to juggle so many elements in one story, but it came off seamlessly.

Though my experience with comic novels is not very broad, I know what I like, and I know what works. This book succeeded in both categories. It was not laugh out loud funny, but rather the kind of book that you read with a continual smile on your face. This is the perfect book to curl up and unwind with. The humor is not biting or sarcastic, or filled with jokes at another's expense. If you are looking for something outlandish or offbeat, this is the book for you.


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