Imagine you are a young mechanic living in a small community in France. You own your own home, and lead a simple life. Then, one evening, you open your front door to find a distraught Hollywood starlet standing in front of you. This is what happens to Arthur Dreyfuss in the village of Long, population 687 inhabitants.
But although feigning an American accent, this woman is not all that she seems. For her name is Jeanine Foucamprez, and her story is very different from the glamorous life of a star. Arthur is not all he seems, either; a lover of poetry with a darker past than one might imagine, he has learnt to see beauty in the mundane.
THE FIRST THING YOU SEE is a warm, witty novel about two fragile souls learning to look beyond the surface – for the first thing you see isn’t always what you get!
The more I read it, the more I felt that everything a person discovers about life has already been discovered through words, everything you feel has already been felt. Everything that’s going to happen is there, in us, already.
A novel with the opening line of ‘Arthur Dreyfuss liked big breasts,’ is pretty much guaranteed to leave me a tad skeptical as to the quality of the rest of its contents. But apart from the focus on the oft-mentioned breasts, particularly those belonging to the female lead, Jeanine, the novel was surprisingly enjoyable, at times even profound.
Jeanine Foucamprez brought unhappiness to men who couldn’t possess her and women who didn’t resemble her.
The great waltz of appearances.
This is, by the way, the book that Scarlet Johannson tried to have banned, at least in its translation to English (It was originally published in French, in case the author’s name didn’t clue you in.)
From the synopsis, you’d think this book was a light hearted romantic comedy, albeit with a French twist. (Not the hairdo!) And I thought so too…until that ending. Be warned, dear readers, there is no happy ending here. It was quite jarring, to say the least.
My body is my prison and I’ll never get out of it alive.
If I haven’t emphasised this enough, I’ll say it one more time – the novel is rather blunt in terms of sexuality and appearance. ESPECIALLY BOOBS. But for a premise that seems rather frivolous – lookalike of Hollywood starlet pitches up on doorstep of humble but hottie mechanic – it had some critical things to say about male behaviour towards attractive women, the fetishisation of desired female appearances, and the way in which the public feel a sense of ownership over the celebrities they adore.
You’d be hers. You’d be her man. And women and men would stare at you, sometimes in a friendly way, often sternly, wondering why you, what it was about you that was so different, what did you have that they didn’t have?
And when they finally found the answer, it would sometimes make them feel unhappy, and sometimes make them cruel.
You were depriving them of her.
The book is populated with numerous pop culture references, particularly Hollywood stars and oldie music – which did get a tad obnoxious at times. However, I loved how the author seamlessly evoked the atmosphere of this tiny French town, population 687 – indeed, I’m a sucker for all things French, and you really could scent the baked goods in the air and feel the somewhat claustrophobic nature of a place where everyone knows everyone’s business.
The impossible dream. The myth of the beauty with a heart of gold, a woman coveted by every man on the planet but who suddenly chooses him, the goddess who gives up everyone else – three and a half billion others at the very least.
Overall, a quick, initially delightful story that took some more serious turns for the reader to mull over. Food for thought, if you will.