Saturday, November 3, 2018

Love and Invention

Love and Invention by Benjamin Constable
Editions du Délirium; 10/13/18
paperback; 323 pages
ISBN-13: 9791091633093

Love and Invention by Benjamin Constable is a highly recommended novel about finding your way in a place you don't belong.

Sixteen-year old Maleck moved to the village of Saint Jean two months ago and would like to run away - back to Paris where he had friends who enjoyed making films as much as he does. Now Maleck's plans to escape have been foiled by the post lady, who inadvertently hit his bike. She also, surprisingly, delivered a letter to him - a letter from his grandfather that was sent ten years ago. Ten years ago, in 2003, his grandfather Abbas Ibn Firnas, 73 years-old, disappeared from the village. According to Yvette, an 83 year-old widow, Abbas flew away.

Maleck, who drops out of high school to avoid the bullying he receives there, is originally encouraged by his mother to spend more time with Yvette, who knew his grandfather. During their visits she often confuses him with his grandfather, but he also learns more about his grandfather's life as an inventor and philosopher. She also teaches him how to dance and lets him know that his grandfather, too, was an outsider in the village. As Maleck learns more about him, he decides to make a film about his grandfather's life.

The novel opens with Maleck imprisoned, where he is encouraged to express himself by writing this book. Chapters alternate between the lives of Abbas (starting in 1937) and Maleck's life leading up to what put him in prison. There are also occasionally brief interludes - short chapters referencing the writing of the book. The chapters featuring Abbas have the feel of historical fiction while the present day chapters featuring Maleck feel like a coming-of-age novel. Maleck's chapters will anger and frustrate you as he deals with the bullies found in Saint Jean while dreaming of becoming a film maker and rising above, flying away, from the mundane limiting existence in his small town. Maleck drops many references to films in his chapters, as a budding film maker would be prone to do.

Constable does an exquisite job utilizing his beautiful, poetic prose to weave both narratives together into a complex, complete story. At the back of the novel are two source guides, one to the origination of the quotes used by one character and one for Maleck's film references. Both Abbas and Maleck are well-developed characters. With them Constable has created complete portraits of complex individuals and the choices, good and bad, that they made in their lives.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Benjamin Constable and Editions du Délirium.

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