When her French composer-husband brings a few co-workers home from the Paris carwash where he is working to earn some money, Jane de la Rochefoucault gets the feeling that something odd is about to happen. When these co-workers steal a secret prototype car to fund a rescue plan for members of their Muslim brotherhood being held hostage, Jane’s mother-in-law hides them in her chateau while they work their plans—and Jane is embroiled in an adventure that will put her family in a bit of a predicament. Little does she know that her own famiglia connections will help save the day.
Anne Marsella’s novel combines the trials and tribulations of first-time motherhood, culture clashes, and marriage with an international crime caper. Mafia uncles, upper-crust communists, absent-minded avant-garde composers, and feminist academics are just some of the wonderful characters she has created to enliven her tale of raising a baby in Belleville, a multicultural, mainly immigrant section of Paris.
While the plot features some imaginative flights of fancy, there are wonderfully real depictions of events and issues that many mothers will recognize: concerns about whether or not to breastfeed, balancing work and family, setting up your home with limited income, and learning how to fit into life in a foreign country all come up in both serious and hilarious situations.
In Anne Marsella’s* warm and funny The Baby of Belleville, hierarchy is put to rest, making room for an all-inclusive Paris, a Paris where equal time is given to French feminist philosophers, aristocrats, plumbers, DJs, shepherdesses and kung fu experts. Here, you’ll see Paris at an oblique angle. And yet at the same time her stories seem uncanny in their familiarity, as stories of love and motherhood often are.
What I really like about her books (I also recommend her novel Remedy, where the protagonist works in the fashion world), are her unusual heroines. Intelligent, good-in-their-skin but still self-doubting. Never doubting, however, their bodies. Marsella writes women who take belly dancing lessons without self deprecation: an antidote to chick lit. Her protagonists also have an uncanny ability to read the needs of other humans, and especially artists. In The Baby of Belleville, the protagonist Jane hires a plumber who turns out to be a talented creator. He makes a fantastical, mosaic toilet for her, asking 200 euros for his work. As Jane retrieves the money she feels tears coming on, “The truth was, I was being pulled by two contrasting emotions – the tragedy of spending two hundred euros on a toilet and the unforgivable slight of paying an artist so little for so much.” She sends him …
Narrated by an Italian-American living in Paris with her aristocratic French husband and newborn baby, this comic novel is an imaginative tale of motherhood. Struggling with her newfound role as a mother and with life in a foreign country, Jane de la Rochefoucault is facing more challenges than most new mums (kung-fu criminals, stolen cars, and a criminal mother-in-law to name a few). Set in the beautiful streets of Paris, The Baby of Belleville tells the comical story of a woman trying to balance marriage, babies, life and all the chaos that comes with it. Writing in a light-hearted, casual tone, author Anne Marsella manages to make the elaborate plot seem like a conversation with a good friend.
The narrator of Anne Marsella’s comic novel is an Italian-American woman who lives in Paris with her aristocratic husband and their newborn son.
The book centres on the trials and pleasures of motherhood: the teething, the first steps, the interfering in-laws. With its alliterative puns, neatly turned witticisms and acronyms such as “SJLYM”, which denotes the dreaded phenomenon of “sounding just like your mother”, it reads like a diverting article in a lifestyle magazine. The emergence of a subplot concerning a bloody kidnapping, then, is somewhat unexpected; it’s as if the mafia suddenly turned up halfway through a Caitlin Moran column.
When You’re Strange
Anne Marsella is the award-winning author of four books, most recently The Baby of Belleville, a novel about life, love, and motherhood in Paris. Today, she writes about reconciling the writing life with parenting, the very human need to belong, and the pain of alienation that sometimes comes with living in a foreign country. We look forward to welcoming Anne to the Library. She will talk about how living in France for two decades has shaped her work.
“Writing in French has expanded and, in a sense, liberated my English,” she states. “I am not the least afraid of oddities in language; in fact, I welcome them because my main interest lies in questions of otherness, exile and in foreigners.” The New York Times writes that Marsella’s work “is a passport into foreign territory not to be found on any tourist’s map.” Join us for a fascinating evening on Wednesday 12 October at 19h30.
It is to fiction that I have always taken my contradiction du jour. As a new mother I found myself caught in a bind which tethers so many mother-artists: How do you reconcile the demands of the caring arts with those of the literary arts? Both will keep you up at night, drain your reserves and whimper and …
The follow-up to Anne Marsella’s lovely, modern-day, Paris-set fairy tale Remedy advertises itself as a ‘literary caper’.
In reality, though, it’s much more of a saunter: a languid, whimsical wander through the gently odd life of new mother Jane and the various human oddities who make up her world.
The Baby Of Belleville is a quietly subversive novel in that it resists easy categorisation, and it won’t appeal to readers who like their fiction obvious: it’s not chicklit, it’s not entirely a comedy and it’s not self-consciously literary, although it contain elements of each.
There’s a plot of sorts, involving missing stolen cars, Islamic kung fu specialists and a pregnant nun, that co-exists with Jane’s experience of new motherhood: Marsella is at her best as she writes about its joys and discomforts.
With the faint detachment of a foreigner living in a strange place, she offers the reader a sidelong glimpse of Paris and its idiosyncrasies that makes this strange, sweet book rather a find.