Neither sad nor quiet, though, is Pascale Pujol’s Little Culinary Triumphs (Europa, £12.99), a rompy comedy set in Montmartre, Paris, deftly translated by Alison Anderson. The formidable Sandrine Cordier is an employment officer who delights in striking “parasites” off the list but dreams of opening a restaurant. When she’s assigned the case of Antoine, an unemployed eco-warrior professor, she sees an opportunity to make a go of it. Roping in a “colourful” collection of characters, she schemes her way to opening Le Comptoir Bio. Unfolding at the same time is the dastardly plot by a failing Right-wing newspaper called Le Libéral to take down their sexy rival paper – in which Sandrine and her motley crew soon get mixed up.
The novel is breezy verging on breathless, with plenty of exposition, some of it funny, some of it less so. The best parts involve underhand activity, of which there is plenty – from Le Libéral’s financial shenanigans (their “emphyteutic” subscription model means that when subscribers die, their descendants inherit the subscription with no way of cancelling it) to Sandrine’s cunning plots (a campaign of terror to gain an extra room in their apartment building, the casual use of blackmail to get her children internships).
It’s heavy on plot, but light on characterisation. The women are all brilliant and buxom, the men pervy, devious or dumb, except for the good guys, who are nonetheless denied depth in favour of a “thing”: one’s tall, another farty, one an excellent chef and Antoine an environmentalist who looks like Jesus. Still, it’s an entertaining jaunt – just the light Parisian tonic we’ll need for the months to come.