All Happy Families wasn’t the memoir I was hoping it would be. Le Tellier is upfront from the beginning, letting us know that he doesn’t feel love for his parents. I was therefore expecting a heartfelt exploration into all the whys and wherefores of his troubled childhood. Instead, we simply got a recital of the family tree with some anecdotes about things that were said and done.
Don’t get me wrong, Herve’s family was pretty ghastly. His mother would now be diagnosed with a pretty major personality disorder and his step father with codependency. His biological father obviously spent the rest of his just being grateful that he got out. Herve had lots of very good reasons to distance himself from the family of his birth as soon as he could, but the problem was, he also kept us, the reader, at a distance.
Memoirs, these days, are expected to provide various psychological insights as well as catharsis for the author. One of the very best that I’ve read in recent times is, Nadja Spiegleman’s I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This. Le Tellier’s book has obviously been cathartic for him, but I didn’t feel like I got to know him at all. His lack of curiosity about why his mother and other family members acted the way they did was, well, curious. This complete detachment was no doubt his survival technique, but I wanted him to draw this bow too and show us how he had embraced his life away from the parental home. How does one go on to develop empathy, caring kindness and healthy relationships when one has a childhood lacking in all of the above?
Le Tellier does state at the end that he doesn’t ‘know what it might mean to anyone other than me. But by putting into words to my story, I’ve understood that sometimes a child’s only choice is to escape.‘
I guess what I was hoping for was some insights into the lingering after effects of such an upbringing (there are always lingering after effects). The decisive breaks away from his childhood experience as well as the personal realisations that he must have made throughout his adult life would have been fascinating to read. Perhaps this is just the first step for Le Tellier in this process or maybe he’s simply not as introspective as I am!
I also chose to read this book now thanks to Paris in July. Casual mentions of some antique furniture and a country house with references to French history and pop culture were interesting, but the place of origin was ultimately less significant than the family of origin.
Favourite or Forget: Knowing a less extreme version of Le Tellier’s mother, made this book interesting, with my own personal insights coming from Le Tellier’s example.
- Translated in 2019 by Adriana Hunter a British translator of over 60 French novels.
Book 13 of 20 Books of