STARRED REVIEW
April 2018

Slices of life in the French countryside

By Jane Delury

With the exceedingly rare exception of literary genius, a first novel from even the most gifted short story writer is a risky effort, and not always successful. This is why Jane Delury is deserving of recognition: With immense storytelling gifts and spare but luminous prose, she is one of the few writers whose debut will have readers begging for a second novel.

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With the exceedingly rare exception of literary genius, a first novel from even the most gifted short story writer is a risky effort, and not always successful. This is why Jane Delury is deserving of recognition: With immense storytelling gifts and spare but luminous prose, she is one of the few writers whose debut will have readers begging for a second novel.

The Balcony unfolds in 10 nonchronological chapters—each of which could be a perfect short story—that introduce a cast of characters spanning several generations from 1890 to 2009. From great loves and fleeting lust to hunger and genocide, each character’s story is connected to a once lavish estate (including a servants’ cottage, a manor and, of course, a balcony) in the French countryside. Families appear, then reappear in later chapters: “A Place in the Country” introduces the Havres, whose descendants and lasting heartbreak thread throughout several other sections. The actions of a World War II resistance hero affect the lives of his grandsons, whose own children continue to bear the weight of choices made before them.

The Balcony beckons readers to abandon preconceptions about generational legacies, motherhood and the ideal, pastoral French village. Benneville, the fictional setting of Delury’s novel, was nearly destroyed by bombs during World War II and, a generation later, is a hardscrabble, industrial exurb of Paris in the midst of gentrification. As Delury describes, it’s far from charming: “This was not exactly the country—Benneville had grown since Jacques was a boy, moving closer to Paris on a wave of concrete.”

The final chapter of The Balcony is written in a dramatically different freeform style, and some readers will wish for a more satisfying ending without Delury’s sudden embrace of a quirky, unconventional structure. However, this is a small concern, and readers are more likely to lament that the novel has come to a close, leaving them longing for more.

Delury is sure to win the hearts of all those who appreciate a smart, elegantly written story.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Balcony

The Balcony

By Jane Delury
Little, Brown
ISBN 9780316554671

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