I recently had the privilege of receiving and devouring an ARC of David Foenkino’s The Mystery of Henri Pick. Translated by Sam Taylor, this novel was charming and literary, which was exactly the sort of novel I was in the mood to read when I pulled this e-book up on my cell phone. I won’t bother to summarize the plot, since this novel is primarily a mystery in titular name, only, and you should only read this novel if you are okay with meandering plots including high-level characterizations, akin to a fairy tale about literature peopled with the various people involved in creating and being affected by literature – the struggling authors, the editors and publisher, the general public, the critics.
There is a literal mystery – how did Henri Pick write a novel when no one was aware he had any literary predilection, at all? But the focus of the novel is not really this question that is consuming the minds of the fictional characters that populate it, but whether, how the public’s access to people and information results in the general populace feeling entitled to personal and private information of all persons associated, even tangentially. How this entitlement can result in people who were completely unaffiliated with the creative endeavor being hurt. How this entitlement can be manipulated.
Because at the end of the day, does it matter how the novel was written, if it is, in fact, a good novel? Sure a novel with an interesting backstory may make people more inclined to pick it up (or, more likely, order it from Amazon), but at the end of the day, a novel’s merit should be based on the words contained within its’ pages. In fact, does it really matter who even wrote the novel? Except for potentially resulting in the reader realizing this author’s writing hits his/her/their fancy, and searching for other works, if they exist, or becoming an author whose works the reader keeps an eye for in the new releases, the author’s words are all that will matter in 100 years, when any scandal, beauty, or personal attributes will cease to matter (likely; I guess some authors live to be quite old, so maybe I should update that to 200 years).
Now, having said all of those words above, I have to admit that I am 100% guilty of becoming a bit obsessed with authors who have penned works I have enjoyed and admired. As a teenager, I used to pen letters to my favorite YA author, Christopher Pike, in that fangirl way that probably means there’s a restraining order for me somewhere that has never had to be exercised, because, like, Kevin McFadden lived in California, and I lived in Michigan. I was so obsessed, I spent a ridiculous amount of money to obtain Getting Even, the second in a series that also includes a book written by Caroline B. Cooney, and that is decidedly different from the horror/New Age shit Pike (or his ghostwriters, since with the release of a book per month, there were probably a lot of ghostwriters) usually wrote that I adored. It was my dream, as a teenager, to become the next Christopher Pike, or L.J. Smith (… still waiting on Strange Fate, although at this point, I doubt the book could end the Night World series in a way that gave me closure). As an adult, I can safely say, this dream was not, and will not, be attained. Although I did successfully complete a short story recently, my income is not dependent on my creative ability – which is good, because as even the most cursory glance at this blog will tell you, I’m not great at keeping my creative ability on a schedule. I still like taking my books to author signings (even out-of-state). Authors whose works I enjoy amaze me. As an avid reader, I love those books that touch my heart, and I will seek out other works by the author, follow the author on Goodreads, and marvel at that author’s ability. A book that is fresh every time you read it is an amazing feat. A book that makes me melt, like the romantic works penned by Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell, is a book penned by an author that I admire. And as someone who would like to write something admirable herself, I will see if the authors who have managed to write things I think are amazing have given interviews where they talk about their process, etc., to see if they have the magic key that will unlock my own potential. (I know, this will never work, since the largest factor key to writing something decent is to sit your butt down and write, but part of me can’t help hoping there’s something else, like Sarah Dessen’s two pieces of chocolate, that will make it easier for me.)
In other words, Foenkino has many decent points, but although it is not fair to expect answers from or about the author, if you read something you really admire, doesn’t it also make sense that you are going to be curious about the source of the creation of that thing? Or am I just unhinged, and should treat the author more like a parent of the book I love, smiling awkwardly when I meet them, and absconding away with the book as soon as I can, like teenage me did with my boyfriend?