Three un­like­able char­ac­ters, many ir­re­sistible twists

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

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

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