This Little Family by Inès Bayard #BookReview

Life is going well for Marie. She and her husband, Laurent, live a comfortable life in a large apartment in the eleventh arrondissement in Paris. Laurent has a good job at a big law firm and Marie enjoys her work at a bank, where she feels appreciated by her clients and colleagues.

Comfortable and secure, and ready for family life, the couple begin to try for a baby. But not long afterwards Marie experiences a shocking encounter which threatens to derail their plans completely, and her world slowly starts to fall apart.

Less than two years later, the family’s apartment is cordoned off by police tape as forensic officers examine a horrific scene in the family apartment. Three bodies around a dining table. Marie, Laurent and their little toddler, Thomas, in his high chair. All three of them have been poisoned by Marie.

This Little Family is a dark and furiously compelling novel about women, power and control, from a bright young star in French literature.

My thoughts on This Little Family…

Please note: this review includes references to rape and infanticide. It may not be suitable for everyone to read.

This Little Family has left me confused. I can’t say I liked it, but given the subject matter, I feel guilty saying that. I feel like it should have touched me in some way. But it didn’t. I can’t say if that is because of how it was written (in the third person, which I always find leaves me at arms length from the characters), how it was translated (because it seemed to be clunky in places), or because the subject matter (rape and infanticide).

Then there is another question. Given the subject matter, should even be considering liking it? Should it be more about being moved by it? Made to think, feel, react. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last few days. And I’ve come to a conclusion that, no, this is not a book you are meant to like. It is not a book you are meant to enjoy. It is a book that is meant to make you think about the impact on women of rape. The long-lasting impact. And, because of that, it is cold and hard and difficult to read.

With this in mind, did it achieve it’s purpose? Yes. And no. Yes, it made me angry, and despairing of the world we live in. And no because it was so unrelenting that, even though I finished it (there were times I thought I wouldn’t, even though it was only 260-odd pages), by the end I was numb. Any feelings of anger or despair I felt at the beginning were worn down by the relentlessness of it.

Again, this may have been the point. My fear, though, is that – while this book received critical acclaim – the wider audience it needs to reach won’t engage. They will switch off the way I did. Which is a shame, but also not surprising because, as readers, I think we need to connect to characters. Here, that is very difficult.

None are sympathetic, even Marie. She is shallow before the rape, and deeply troubled afterwards (not surprisingly). But she is also not someone who feels real a lot of the time. She, and her husband Laurent, as well as her friends, family, and colleagues, are all two-dimensional. Again, this may be down to the translation, I’m not sure. But there was nothing there that connected me to any of them.

Which then leaves me with a feeling of guilt. It makes me feel uncaring, when I am not. And it brings me back to my original thought – to how confused I feel about This Little Family. Have you read it? I would be really interested to know what others think?

Emma x

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