Three unlikeable characters, many irresistible twists
In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. Karine Tuil’s new novel is so deliciously chock full of implausible twists and turns but I still should have anticipated where the story was headed. To say more would be to give too much away, but suffice to say that The Age of Reinvention is a page-turner, an intelligent thriller disguised initially as a slow-moving, soapy, love triangle. A finalist for the Prix Goncourt in Tuil’s native France, the book was a best-seller there, and it’s easy to see why.
At university, Samuel Baron and Samir Tahal are inseparable, and neither Samuel’s relationship with the mesmerising Nina, nor the fact that one is a French Jew and one a Tunisian Muslim immigrant, matters. Until both things do. Karine Tuil: from slowmoving love triangle to intelligent thriller
Twenty years later, Samuel and Nina are still in Paris, in deadend jobs and a lacklustre relationship, while Samir has forged a remarkably suc- cessful legal career in New York and carved a place in the heart of the city’s elite.
Oh, and he’s now known as Sam, is married to the ultimate upper East Side Jewish princess, and is claiming a back-story that is rather familiar to his old friend.
The inevitable reunion sets off a chain of events that will leave none of them unscathed, even as Samir’s longburied choices come back to haunt him.
The trio members are difficult to like. Samir, in particular, is loathsome, a lothario with highly questionable morals and a repulsive attitude to women, while Samuel’s neuroticism can be trying.
Yet Tuil is brilliant at bringing them to life; examining every decision they have made from every angle. She tells not only their stories but those of their loved ones, painting particularly vivid pictures of the trials that face Arab immigrants in France and the insecurities that plague modern Jewry. And she has a neat trick of littering the text with footnotes detailing the dreams or disappointments of minor or fleeting characters. In lesser hands, this could feel laboured; Tuil makes these asides a pleasure to read.
Certainly, it’s far from a perfect book. Translated from French, you can tell instantly that it was not designed to be read in English, with the dialogue occasionally coming across as stilted and artificial.
Equally, it’s hard to pin down, jumping suddenly from a lengthy period of introspection to plot twists that wouldn’t feel out of place in an episode of Homeland. The impression you’re left with is that Tuil had several stories she wanted to tell, but decided to put them all together as one.
But even i f the way t h e n o v e l develops is bewildering, and for all that some sections come across as overdone and pretentious, it still makes for an absorbing read. Tuil offers a timely, considered look at social aspiration and religious identity in contemporary France — a particularly hot topic at present, although this was written before the recent wave of violence — and how this contrasts with America.
She challenges her readers at every turn, and does so in an enormously entertaining way. I couldn’t get it out of my head for days.
She challenges her readers at every turn, and does so in an enormously entertaining way
Jennifer Lipman is a freelance journalist