Review: The Secret Life of Writers by Guillaume Musso

clouds musu The Secret Life of a Book It is an exciting puzzle set on an amazing fantasy island off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Nathan Fowles is a famous French-American author of three successful novels. In 1999, at the age of thirty-five, suddenly declaring that he would not write any more books, he moved to Beaumont, a beautiful island off the Mediterranean coast – where he lives in seclusion, completely disappearing from the literary scene.

In 2018, young Swiss journalist Mathilde Mooney was determined to secure Fowles’ first interview in 20 years on vacation to the island. She goes to the author’s villa on the pretext of returning the lost golden retriever. While Fowles is fascinated by the woman, he is also suspicious because he feels that she is playing a sly mind game with him. Coincidentally, on the same day, the body of a woman was found on the beach and authorities cordoned off the island. It all came as a shock to the inhabitants of this peaceful paradise, where crime is practically unheard of.

299 p., 699 rupees; W&N

The moving story is told by 24-year-old Raphael Patai, a struggling writer from Paris who goes to Beaumont, where he gets a job in a small bookshop. Patai, who is in love with Fowles, hopes to connect with him while on the island and even decides to write a book based on his life called The Secret Life of a Book.

Along with the Fawles, Bataille begins investigating a brutal murder and more details and information – and stories within the stories – are revealed every day. As they piece together pieces of the puzzle, the reader learns the backstories, motives, and secrets of each of the people involved – “the side victims in a story where they were just mysterious extras” – and eventually discovers how it all relates to one larger “Intolerable Truth”.

This may be Beaumont.  The medieval village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera.  (stock struggle)
This may be Beaumont. The medieval village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera. (stock struggle)

Author Nathan Fowles is the defining focal point of the story. Frowning, aloof with a mysterious aura, he embodies the writer’s anxiety and his art – which has no “method, rules, or roadmap”. “In order to write, you have to be in the world and outside it at the same time,” he explains. Fowles believes that success hinges on misunderstanding, and that being a writer is the least magical thing in the world. “You spend your nights sweating in blood and tears to make a sentence that even three-quarters of your readers will not notice,” he says.

He refers to publishers as “the people who would like you to be grateful for telling you what they think of your book in a couple of sentences, while you’ve been away for two years to make it hang together.” Musso’s Fawles borrows its traits from various writers, including Milan Kundera, J.D. Salinger, Philip Roth, and Elena Ferrante.

The book also makes some relevant observations about the book trade pointing to the fact that fewer people are now buying books from brick and mortar stores even as internet giants control the entire ecosystem. “Nowadays everyone wants to be a writer and nobody actually reads,” Pattaya’s employer notes, ironically, to Philip Roth’s pessimism regarding the future of reading.

The book contains some great descriptions of the fictional “wild, unspoiled” Beaumont Island – a place devoid of tourists, pollution, or concrete. The mystery “turquoise streams, rocky bays, pine forests and pristine sandy beaches” provide a rather interesting backdrop. Musso wrote that the fictional island was inspired partly by Atherton in California and partly by Porquerolle, a Mediterranean island off the French coast, as well as the author’s travels to Hydra, Corsica, and the Isle of Skye.

Author Guillaume Musso (Courtesy Hachette India)
Author Guillaume Musso (Courtesy Hachette India)

As the plot unfolds, with its many twists and turns, gradually, the line between fact and fiction becomes increasingly blurred. At the end of the book, Musso writes that the novel, in a sense, illustrates the mysterious process that generates a piece of writing: “Just like a strange dream, small details of the real world can appear there, but distorted in some way, and become an essential part of the narrative as they slowly take shape. “. Thus, some of the events in the book have been influenced by real events, such as the Cannon Power Shot being discovered on a beach in Taiwan, after it drifted for six years across the ocean from Hawaii.

reading The Secret Life of a Book It’s easy to see why Guillaume Musso is France’s best-selling author. It says, “The main advantage of a writer is knowing how to get the reader’s attention with a good story.” Musso definitely has that quality. This type of page in the book will be especially loved by writers, or anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming one.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in New Delhi, who writes primarily on books, music, films, theater and travel.

The opinions expressed are personal

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