Review: The Book of Pearl by Timothée de Fombelle, Sarah Ardizzone (Translator), Sam Gordon (Translator)


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Published: 6 February 2018 (first published November 2014)

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Category: Fantasy/Young Adult/Cultural (France)

In prose as magical and intricate as the tale it tells, Timothée de Fombelle delivers an unforgettable story of a first love that defines a lifetime.

Joshua Pearl comes from a world that we no longer believe in — a world of fairy tale. He knows that his great love waits for him there, but he is stuck in an unfamiliar time and place — an old-world marshmallow shop in Paris on the eve of World War II. As his memories begin to fade, Joshua seeks out strange objects: tiny fragments of tales that have already been told, trinkets that might possibly help him prove his own story before his love is lost forever. Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Gordon translate the original French into a work both luminous and layered, enabling Timothée de Fombelle’s modern fairy tale to thrum with magic. Brimming with romance and history, mystery and adventure, this ode to the power of memory, storytelling, and love will ensnare any reader’s imagination and every reader’s heart.

Rating: 4 Stars

The Book of Pearl started out a little rough for me. It opens with a fairy having given up her powers to save the life of a prince she loves. Typical fairy tale stuff, right? The writing in this prologue or whatever you want to call is felt unfinished, or perhaps translated badly, because it read like the literary version of a kaleidoscope being shaken up and you’re trying to see where the pattern is in everything.

After getting through it, however, I found that the writing was so much more enjoyable. There were some mysterious elements and people whose identities were obscured, but events and revelations began to unfold in an engaging manner.

I assumed, from the description, that a lot more time would be spent in the marshmallow shop. When that turned out not to be the case, I was a bit disappointed. Joshua’s journey does go all over the place, considering he ends up enlisting during WWII. The fairy tale elements that he finds, whether a story book or a mermaid scale, don’t initially come across as a quest for proof of his world. The two examples I mentioned he encounters by accident.

Even as the book didn’t turn out as I expected, I found myself wanting to consume it, to figure out who these characters were, to see what kind of ending was in store.

There were different points of view throughout, but only one told from the first person perspective. It was that one that was the least clear or concise for me. Everyone else ended up having a distinct identity and more than a few interconnected stories, but the man that narrated “I” and was the author of the in-story “The Book of Pearl” felt forced. His function seemed to be to insert the reader into the story, but that was accomplished without his presence. His separatness took me away from Joshua/Ilian and Olia’s story.

That aside, I think this story had a lot of interesting points and strengths regarding the power of fairy tales and what they mean to people. Stories, beliefs, their power can go so far, even so far as to break a curse and reunite lost lovers if only you’ll believe.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

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