‘The Lost Estate’ by Alain-Fournier ***

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, as I had never heard of it or its author before I picked it up whilst browsing in a Cambridge bookshop. According to the introduction, this is an incredibly popular book in France. On my many trips there, however, I have never seen it, nor other books by its author, on display.

I found the plot intriguing. In it, an enigmatic young man from a school in the middle of rural France somewhere in the 1890s goes missing, and ends up forming part of a wedding party in the unmapped countryside. The entire novel had something of a Gothic feel about it. Alain-Fournier has described rural France, with elements of both its overriding beauty and loneliness, very well indeed.

I had mixed feelings about the characters. Whilst the main protagonists are relatively interesting and surprising in their actions, I did feel that the frequent fights between Francois and Meaulnes and the other pupils were rather overdone. Towards the end of the book, it was as though they had been put into the narrative merely to liven things up, rather than to have any great impact upon the wavering plot. Elements of the tale are rather odd, but the meandering storyline makes it somewhat difficult to guess what is about to happen.

On the whole, The Lost Estate, to give it one of its many titles, is an interesting book, but by the same token, there were some faults with it, with particular regard to the lack of empathy I felt for almost every character who filled its pages, and the odd plotlines, which made the novel feel rather disjointed on the whole.

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