After The Foundling Boy by Michel Déon, I was very much looking forward to following up the adventures of Jean as he grew up, so I was very pleased to be sent a copy of The Foundling’s War (also translated by Julian Evans) for review by publisher Gallic Press . It’s taken a while to get round to it, for which many apologies, but here it is.
In the aftermath of French defeat in July 1940, twenty-year-old Jean Arnaud and his ally, the charming conman Palfy, are hiding out at a brothel in Clermont-Ferrand, having narrowly escaped a firing squad. At a military parade, Jean falls for a beautiful stranger, Claude, who will help him forget his adolescent heartbreak but bring far more serious troubles of her own.
Having safely reached occupied Paris, the friends mingle with art smugglers and forgers, social climbers, showbiz starlets, bluffers, swindlers and profiteers, French and German, as Jean learns to make his way in a world of murky allegiances. But beyond the social whirl, the war cannot stay away forever…
A very murky world it is too. It’s a story of survival in difficult times, compromises, dubious decisions and shady dealings. There are collaborators and conscripts, people exploited and hurt, while others seem to smile through and float over the top of the quagmire. I found it rather unsettling, to be honest. Whether or not it is an accurate portrayal of the French experience of WW2 I couldn’t say, but it seemed to lack depth compared to, say, Suite Française. OK, so it’s not dealing explicitly with the treatment of French Jews, but there are people living in commandeered Jewish apartments in an arrangement apparently considered beneficial for both sides. Maybe these deals were hatched. I don’t know. But it jarred.
There is still a lot to like about the book and the writing, and a lot of it was just as entertaining as its predecessor. It is good on human relationships, and the affair between Jean and Claude is painfully touching, but for me it was a rather disappointing sequel. Perhaps it was that the charm wore thin, or perhaps just that it was out of place with the subject matter, but it didn’t grab me in the same way.