I was enchanted by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent’s charming debut novel The Reader on the 6.27, and I am even more in love with his second novel, The Rest of Their Lives.
The Rest of Their Lives follows the story of an unlikely grouping of characters. Ambroise is an embalmer, living in a small French town with his feisty grandmother, Beth. He spends more time with the dead than he does with the living, and despite being a good looking and personable young man, his profession is the kiss of death to any serious relationships with women. Most bolt when they discover what he does, or become unhealthily interested causing his relationships to end quickly. Even his estranged father, who has a Novel Prize in Medicine, despises what Ambroise does as a vocation.
At the same time, Manelle spends her days caring for the elderly in their homes, with a mixture of clients, most of whom she adores spending time with, but with at least one who works to make her life difficult. There isn’t much energy after a busy day except spend a solitary evening home alone.
But then Ambroise and Manelle’s worlds collide when eighty-two retired chef Samuel decides on a trip to Switzerland. This becomes a road-trip like no other, with Ambroise’s grandmother Beth, also in the thick of things.
This is a truly charming novel that celebrates and affirms life, despite the many scenes of Ambroise preparing the recently deceased so they can be viewed by their loved ones. The characters are larger-than-life and completely loveable, and the storyline looks like it is heading in one direction, before a welcome surprise takes the novel down a completely different road, beautifully drawing together a number of strands. This is a novel with wonderful characters, and ultimately a sense of joy at how precious life is.
Macmillan, RRP $34.99