Making sense of grief

Agnès Desarthe’s first English novel ‘The Foundling’ questions how adults and children alike survive emotional pain

The Foundling, by Agnès Desarthe, translated by Adrian Hunter, Portobello, RRP£12.99, 240 pages

Jerome Dampierre is a foundling who was discovered running wild in the woods. He tells nobody about his origins, or that he finds sanctuary in the forest, rolling in the undergrowth. As befits a small-town estate agent, he keeps his feelings to himself. So why, after his teenage daughter’s boyfriend dies, is he so grief-stricken?

Thrown back in contact with his ex-wife and fascinated by a young Scotswoman who comes to him to buy a house, his settled life begins to fracture. When a police inspector turns up asking questions about the disappearance of a schoolgirl, it is the catalyst for Jerome to investigate his Jewish heritage.

Agnès Desarthe’s first novel to be published in English since the Parisian comedy Chez Moi asks how adults and children alike survive emotional pain – through forgetting or remembering? A dream-like book that moves tantalisingly in and out of focus without ever quite coalescing.

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