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French Fridays: The Madeleine Project

This is a challenging review to write without giving away too much of the story, but I guess I can’t just say “This is an amazing, surprising and thoroughly addictive read – go buy it now”, can I? 😉

From the publisher:

A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman’s attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era.

I had heard about The Madeleine Project in France this summer and was intrigued. It sounded like a really unique concept (kind of like a mystery story told in the format of a series of tweets over the course of just over a year) so I was excited to be offered a review copy of this book, now available in the English translation.

The minute you open the book, you can see it is, indeed “a graphic novel for the Twitter age” – it’s presented as a series of tweets in November 2015 and February 2016 (two “seasons”). Yes, tweets. Sounds unappealing as a “read” but, in fact, it is a fascinating concept and one I really took to after the first couple of pages. Of course, I am an avid Twitter user so perhaps I am used to the format but I think that even for non-Twitter users it’s very user-friendly. It reads like a comic, only with photographs instead of drawings and much, much less text. As a teacher, I find this a really appealing way to teach history (or at least, to “hook” students) and would be interested to see how younger readers react to this format.

The premise of the book is simple and would probably make for an interesting read event if written as a straight novel or memoir. Clara Beaudoux moves into an apartment in Paris and inherits the cellar storage room, the contents of which noone was interested in claiming. On entering the room for the first time, she realised there was a treasure trove contained in there, essentially, the life of the previous tenant, a certain Madeleine who lived there for nearly 30 years and died in her 90s, packaged in boxes. Beaudoux’s original idea was to make a kind of inventory of the contents of the room on Twitter over the course of a few weeks in November 2015. Her feed drew a lot of interest and quickly gained a following. She writes:

I think it’s fantastic that through this story, many people have found their grandparents, their stories, their memories, their attics, their remembrances. So many grandmothers also called Madeleine! Someone said: “Something very private and personal has connected with the universal.”

I think we’re all secretly really interested in other people’s lives and this book appeals to that part of human nature. Reading the book really does feel like you are right there, opening the boxes, reading the letters, looking and the photographs and wondering along with Beaudoux. It’s a fast “read” but the contents, and Beaudoux’s musings throughout (both via her tweets and some of her own thoughts interspersed through the book) will leave you wondering about Madeleine. And, perhaps thinking about what your “things” would tell people of your life if they were discovered in the same way.

A delightful read that will leave you wanting more. In fact, you can read the four “seasons” in their entirety (in their original French) over on madeleineproject.fr

 

Buy The Madeleine Project on Amazon (this link should bring you to the Amazon store in, or closest to, your country) or for free worldwide shipping, buy from The Book Depository.

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Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon and The Book Depository which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you) which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!

 

Disclosure: I received a copy of “The Madeleine Project” for review purposes from the publisher. I was not asked to write about the book, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions 100% my own.

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One Response to French Fridays: The Madeleine Project

  1. Geoff September 22, 2017 at 19:54 #

    It’s an interesting concept, innovative even, to tell a story, as you say, through a series of tweets. I’m not sure how I’d react (at my age) but you’ve got to keep an open mind about different ways of doing things. I guess in decades past, the sort of comment I’m making now would have been made by older people about comics.

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