Waiting for Monsieur Bellivier by Britta Rostlund
Opening sentence: “At 73 Boulevard des Batignolles, there is a small grocer’s shop.”
Based on its cover, I thought this book would be a charming romance, then reading the synopsis, it seemed like a far more sinister mystery novel. The contradiction of these elements appealed to me and this combination was enough to draw me in.
Featuring the dual narratives of Mancebo, a grocery shop owner and Helena, a journalist, both characters see their lives change after accepting offers that come out of the blue. Sitting in a cafe one day, a man asks Helena if she is, ‘waiting for Monsieur Bellivier?’, she is not, but says she is, and so begins her double life. Mancebo’s neighbour, Madame Cat, asks him to spy on her husband, as she suspects her husband of having an affair, and so begins Mancebo’s secret career as a private detective. I found both of these stories intriguing, although, it has to be said, they did feel a little repetitive at times and that the finale could have been reached sooner. However, I did enjoy how, for all their differences, both lead characters were actually very similar – lonely and to a certain extent lost – as this gave the overall story a pleasing symmetry.
There was also a third sub-plot introduced into the mix, that of Judith Goldenberg and her debatable past. I don’t feel that adding this third narrative enhanced the main plot in any way and I would rather have read more about Helena’s life, she could have done with a little fleshing out, as her character didn’t feel as dimensional as Mancebo’s.
Also, I’m not sure if this was an edit that hadn’t yet taken place in the proof I was reading, or a strange tactic to slightly confuse the reader, but the two narratives did not have natural break points in the page, so I often didn’t realise the story had switched to the other character until a few lines in. As Mancebo’s narrative was always written in third person and Helena’s in the first, this was the only way to decipher whose voice I was now reading, which was most off-putting.
Overall, there were some lines that did make me chuckle and I was easily swept along with the gentle pace of the novel, but the climax was a bit of a let down, the big reveal was barely touched upon and it had been building up for so long that there could have been more focus on it. Ultimately, this book explores people not being who we think they are – a theme that applies to a majority of the characters we meet, and this message does make for an intriguing little mystery, it’s just that it does err on the side of cosy rather than thrilling.
Thank you to NetGalley for the eARC. Published 10th August 2017.