This is a slow book. Not much is happening over 572 pages. The worst thing in the protagonist's life has happened already, and has turned out to be false, before the story starts. There isn’t a quest for an mysterious author, as was the case in Mercier’s bestseller and masterpiece Night Train to Lisbon. Rather, this book takes you into the life of Simon Leyland, a translator by trade, a lover of words and languages.
All the people mentioned throughout share that fascination, which leads to many interesting discussions on terminology and the sound of certain words in certain languages. Having studied semantics and language sciences, I thoroughly enjoyed that. I also loved the philosophical touch of the book. I had wished philosophy would play just as big a role as it did in Nighttrain.
What I didn’t like so much were the many anecdotes. There were lots of side characters who were introduced with pretty much all of their life’s stories. And then they were repeated in letters.
By the end of the book, Leyland begins writing his first ever story, rather than translating or retelling other’s stories in other languages. Without giving away too much: it is then that Mercier’s book falls into place and everything makes total sense.
Leyland is probably in his early sixties, and more than once during reading I asked myself if readers of that same age category would enjoy it more than I – being 30 – did now. I don’t recognize the feeling of “being finished with life” in a satisfied way; that’s not because life treated one badly, but just because it’s been enough, one has seen everything, felt everything, and just is nourished.