In the small town of Crozon in Brittany, a library houses manuscripts that were rejected for publication: the faded dreams of aspiring writers. Visiting while on holiday, young editor Delphine Despero is thrilled to discover a novel so powerful that she feels compelled to bring it back to Paris to publish it.
The book is a sensation, prompting fevered interest in the identity of its author - apparently one Henri Pick, a now-deceased pizza chef from Crozon. Sceptics cry that the whole thing is a hoax: how could this man have written such a masterpiece? An obstinate journalist, Jean-Michel Rouche, heads to Brittany to investigate.
By turns farcical and moving, The Mystery of Henri Pick is a fast-paced comic mystery enriched by a deep love of books - and of the authors who write them.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
In 1971, the American writer Richard Brautigan published
The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966, a quirky love story about a male librarian and a young woman with a spectacular body. In a way, the woman is the victim of her body, as if beauty were a curse. Vida—for that is the heroine’s name—
explains that a man was killed in a car accident because of her; mesmerized by the sight of this incredible passer-by, he simply forgot that he was driving. After the crash, the woman ran over to the car. The driver, covered in blood, managed to utter a few last words before he died: “You’re beautiful.”
In fact, though, Vida’s story is less important than the librarian’s. Because the novel’s most distinctive feature is that the library where he works will accept any book rejected by a publisher. For example, we meet one man who deposits his manuscript there after receiving four hundred rejection slips. All kinds of different books accumulate in this way, from an essay such as “Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms” to a cookery book compiling every meal eaten in Dostoevsky’s novels. One advantage of this arrangement is that the author can choose the spot on the shelf where his book will sit. He can leaf through the pages of his unfortunate colleagues before finding his place in this sort of anti-posterity. On the other hand, no manuscripts sent by post are accepted. The author must come in person to deliver the unwanted tome, as if to symbolize the final act of its absolute abandonment.
A few years later, in 1984, the author of The Abortion committed suicide in Bolinas, California. We will return to Brautigan’s life and the circumstances that drove him to suicide a little later, but for now let us concentrate on that library, born in his imagination. In the early 1990s his idea became a reality:
one of his fans created a “library of rejected books” in tribute to the deceased author, and the Brautigan Library began to accept the world’s literary orphans. First located in the United
States, it is now housed in Vancouver, Canada.1 Brautigan would surely have been moved by this initiative, although obviously it is hard to know how a dead person would feel about anything. When the library was first founded, it made the news in several countries, including France. A librarian in Crozon,
Brittany, decided to do the same thing, and in October 1992
he created a French version of the library of rejects.
Jean-Pierre Gourvec was proud of the small sign hanging outside his library: a quote by Emil Cioran, an ironic choice for a man who had practically never left his native Brittany:
1 For more information, go to www.thebrautiganlibrary.org
“Paris is the ideal place to mess up your life.”
Gourvec was one of those men who prefer their region to their country, without descending into nationalistic fervour.
His appearance might suggest otherwise: a tall, lean man with bulging neck veins and a very red complexion, Gourvec looked like someone with a very short fuse. But in fact he was a calm,
thoughtful person, for whom words had a meaning and a destination.
It took only a few minutes in his company for your false first impression to be replaced by another feeling: here was a man capable of withdrawing into himself like a Russian doll.
He it was who altered the layout of his bookshelves to create a space, at the back of the municipal library, for the world’s homeless manuscripts. That rearrangement brought back to his mind a line by Jorge Luis Borges: “If you pick up a book in a library and put it back again, you tire out the shelves.”
They must be exhausted today, thought Gourvec with a smile.
He had the sense of humour of an erudite man: a solitary,
erudite man. That was how he saw himself, and it wasn’t far from the truth. Gourvec was endowed with a minimal dose of sociability; he rarely laughed at the same things that made his neighbours laugh, although he would pretend to whenever they told a joke. Sometimes he would even go for a beer in the bar at the end of the street, where he’d talk about everything and nothing with the other men—particularly about nothing, he thought—and in those moments of collective excitement he would occasionally agree to play cards. It didn’t bother him to be seen as a man like other men.