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And Their Children After Them

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Winner of the 2018 Prix Goncourt, this poignant coming-of-age tale captures the distinct feeling of summer in a region left behind by global progress. August 1992. One afternoon during a heatwave in a desolate valley somewhere in eastern France, with its dormant blast furnaces and its lake, fourteen-year-old Anthony and his cousin decide to steal a canoe to explore the famo Winner of the 2018 Prix Goncourt, this poignant coming-of-age tale captures the distinct feeling of summer in a region left behind by global progress. August 1992. One afternoon during a heatwave in a desolate valley somewhere in eastern France, with its dormant blast furnaces and its lake, fourteen-year-old Anthony and his cousin decide to steal a canoe to explore the famous nude beach across the water. The trip ultimately takes Anthony to his first love and a summer that will determine everything that happens afterward. Nicolas Mathieu conjures up a valley, an era, and the political journey of a young generation that has to forge its own path in a dying world. Four summers and four defining moments, from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to the 1998 World Cup, encapsulate the hectic lives of the inhabitants of a France far removed from the centers of globalization, torn between decency and rage.


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Winner of the 2018 Prix Goncourt, this poignant coming-of-age tale captures the distinct feeling of summer in a region left behind by global progress. August 1992. One afternoon during a heatwave in a desolate valley somewhere in eastern France, with its dormant blast furnaces and its lake, fourteen-year-old Anthony and his cousin decide to steal a canoe to explore the famo Winner of the 2018 Prix Goncourt, this poignant coming-of-age tale captures the distinct feeling of summer in a region left behind by global progress. August 1992. One afternoon during a heatwave in a desolate valley somewhere in eastern France, with its dormant blast furnaces and its lake, fourteen-year-old Anthony and his cousin decide to steal a canoe to explore the famous nude beach across the water. The trip ultimately takes Anthony to his first love and a summer that will determine everything that happens afterward. Nicolas Mathieu conjures up a valley, an era, and the political journey of a young generation that has to forge its own path in a dying world. Four summers and four defining moments, from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to the 1998 World Cup, encapsulate the hectic lives of the inhabitants of a France far removed from the centers of globalization, torn between decency and rage.

30 review for And Their Children After Them

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jake Goretzki

    Goncourt winner of 2018. A hugely enjoyable, ambitious panorama of youth, class and race in post-industrial France. I”ve been describing it as, Trainspotting with Weed and Mopeds - but it’s not really that either. It very successfully captures the agony, boredom and excitement of adolescence romance (and frankly, shagging) extremely well. I haven’t read much writing about shagging in French before actually, and that’s brilliant too - none of the ickiness of English where you can feel like you’re Goncourt winner of 2018. A hugely enjoyable, ambitious panorama of youth, class and race in post-industrial France. I”ve been describing it as, Trainspotting with Weed and Mopeds - but it’s not really that either. It very successfully captures the agony, boredom and excitement of adolescence romance (and frankly, shagging) extremely well. I haven’t read much writing about shagging in French before actually, and that’s brilliant too - none of the ickiness of English where you can feel like you’re watching scud, only it’s narrated by Ian McEwan or Julian Barnes who’s sitting in the armchair behind you. I love too how it tackles the passage of time in the formative teenage years: the yearning you’d get a year after an encounter when already things have moved on so fast. Youth aside, primarily this is probably a novel about class. I read Didier Erebon’s ‘Retour a Reims’ a few months ago, which explores the depressing mutation of class loyalty into racial loyalty, from communist to FN. In this novel, there’s a gently chilling parallel of that around the funeral of Patrick’s departed colleague - all round nice guy, union man...and eventual FN supporter. The evolution of the town (‘Heillange’) is also superbly rendered, with its slow attempts to regenerate, amid the hulks of the Usine and the arrival of superstores as a sort of halfway rescue (the very same happens in the UK). Frankly, it almost feels like how a Brexit novel ought to be. One of the reasons I now find myself going back to contemporary French lit (and radio and TV) in the past year is that, it has only just occurred to me the other day, it’s a form of escape (Brodsky would call it inner exile) from the draining daily clusterfuck that is Brexit. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been much of a literary reaction to Brexit in UK fiction yet. There’s Anthony Cartwrght (Iron Towns, etc) who’s made a good start, and our regional writers (Ross Raisin, Joe Dunthorne, Jon McGregor) are probably mulling it over. But this feels lke what I’d be looking for. Meanwile in Francophonie, there are some superb Age of Stupid / Trump Era novels: novels that reflect on the banality and violence of small town life; the slow putrefaction of post-Industrial males (and how the women always so much more resilient). Adeline Dieudonnés ‘La Vraie Vie’ was sublimely Belgian dark. Houell’becq’s recent Seratonine was a misanthropic, miserable pleasure - that’s often darkly sad and rudderless. It’s a story of race too - or attempts at negotiating it. I’m genuinely intrigued how commentators feel about the story and how it all ties up. My sympathies were very much with Hacine (his wife was awful); but are the novel’s? The death of Patrick is tragically beautiful (and Hacine witnesses it - which is kinda bad, right). Hacine goes ‘straight’ and black-blanc-beur, but I guess we’re saying… that’s not working, both ways. The tie-up with another stolen moped is pretty cinematic too. Long, but very enjoyable.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sophia Orachunwong-Pochet

    Coming from this very place, it was quite a hard reading for me. Yet it was also so compelling that I devoured it in a few days. It is the kind of thrill voracious readers hope to find again and again. But somehow I believe this haste can also be explained, at least for me, by a desire to be done with it. The characters, their destinies and the way they were depicted reflected every dark thought I can have about this particular place, the kind of thoughts I get when I feel depressed and bitter. Coming from this very place, it was quite a hard reading for me. Yet it was also so compelling that I devoured it in a few days. It is the kind of thrill voracious readers hope to find again and again. But somehow I believe this haste can also be explained, at least for me, by a desire to be done with it. The characters, their destinies and the way they were depicted reflected every dark thought I can have about this particular place, the kind of thoughts I get when I feel depressed and bitter. The bleakness had the tone of social realism but it seriously lacked nuances. The book describes mediocrity as the very essence of the valley, inescapable for anyone unable to move far away. Even the characters who do have enough wealth and social intelligence to eventually climb the social ladder never seem to find a sense of purpose. Only a marginal character's endeavor towards social advancement is tied up with a passion for singing and she is hardy mentioned. Disappointing was also the fact that the only character of color was being beaten by his traditional father and ended up dealing drugs. I could feel the author made an effort to have a diverse panel of characters, made research on the North-African immigration, on the life of the first generation and their French descendants but ended up depicting Hacine and his father in a way that felt stereotypical. Like many of the other characters, Hacine never expresses any passion or even the tiniest interest for anything else than violence and superficial material possession so it kind of feels like even given the opportunity, he wouldn't have done anything with it. I don't know where Nicolas Mathieu was headed but as an anecdote, an intellectual conservative uncle of mine was very pleased with the book and it gave him much material to discuss the mediocrity of the 'average' French people. I was curious to discover how the story was going to prove worthy of a Goncourt prize, particularity with Edouard Louis' work in mind. What had Nicolas Mathieu achieved that Edouard Louis had not? The answer is I don’t know. I find more poetry in Louis’ use of vernacular language. To me, Mathieu merely juxtaposed vernacular and higher forms of languages, presenting the narrator as an exterior commentator finding delight in sprinkling crude words here and there. In the end the main thing I enjoyed was the depiction of women. I was a bit creeped out by the way Nicolas Mathieu insisted on describing teenage girls' asses but the emphasis on their beauty and bodies also seemed to serve the greater purpose of explaining that those attributes could offer them a different path or merely some control over their relationship with men. The friendship between Steph and Clem also felt like the only bond that wasn’t tainted by violence.

  3. 4 out of 5

    James (JD) Dittes

    This isn't quite allegory, but it is a deeper look into a country and a culture than one expects to find in a coming-of-age story. By taking a deep dive into the lives of three French kids over an eight-year period, Mathieu slices open a culture even for foreign readers like me. Hacine, Anthony and Steph are our guides to the city of Heillange, formerly a steel city in northeastern France and now a bedroom community for those lucky enough to get jobs working in prosperous Luxembourg. Hacine's fath This isn't quite allegory, but it is a deeper look into a country and a culture than one expects to find in a coming-of-age story. By taking a deep dive into the lives of three French kids over an eight-year period, Mathieu slices open a culture even for foreign readers like me. Hacine, Anthony and Steph are our guides to the city of Heillange, formerly a steel city in northeastern France and now a bedroom community for those lucky enough to get jobs working in prosperous Luxembourg. Hacine's father, a Moroccan immigrant, and Anthony's father once worked together in the steel mill, but both find themselves scrambling through the 1990s, trying to find work, keep families together, raise sons. These are tough tasks even in the best of times! Steph's father is vice mayor of the city, and through her Mathieu shows how the city's remaining elites live. Sexuality, crime, violence, and drug use simmer at all points of the story, but they are there for a reason, showing how the characters develop, fail, strive, then fail again. Hacine's ticket out of town is a return to Morocco. Anthony joins the army. And Steph, true to her class, seems able to change pathways at the drop of a hat and keep rising up and out of Heillange (an indifferent student, she benefits from a private cram course to ace her Baccalaureate exam; a selfish lover, she seems to be the only one who takes pleasure for her dating choices). Only Steph is inoculated by her wealth from the despair that Anthony and Hacine grow into. This is a really good book, a fascinating look into France in the age of de-industrialization and globalization that was the 1990s.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Call it 2.5 stars. The writing is as clunky as people say it is, but I dunno if that's necessarily a bad thing. It's only distracting in the sex scenes, which are never written well anyways. There's not much plot and what little there is happens to be rather contrived, but that's because this is one of those Zolaesque studies of the times, of the forces at work upon society, and not only am I a sucker for that sort of thing but they work better the less plot there is. The book really comes alive Call it 2.5 stars. The writing is as clunky as people say it is, but I dunno if that's necessarily a bad thing. It's only distracting in the sex scenes, which are never written well anyways. There's not much plot and what little there is happens to be rather contrived, but that's because this is one of those Zolaesque studies of the times, of the forces at work upon society, and not only am I a sucker for that sort of thing but they work better the less plot there is. The book really comes alive not in the centrepiece scenes but in all of the relentless exposition building them up. As for whether the Zolaesque part works, I'll say it strikes me as fairly representative of the 90s. Not that I lived in peripheral France, but there's obviously something common about this idea of the periphery throughout the western world and beyond. That said, a lot of the book really is just teen melodrama that doesn't really have any value except to compel these character studies onward. I still wanna check out this guy's other novel too.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mooney

    There's the ring of a Ken Loach film about this stylish French novel. And Their Children After Them, which won the Prix Goncourt a couple of years ago and has just been translated into English, is a sunbathed picture of the rural poor in 1990s France, a coming-of-age story etched in sepia, overflowing with nostalgia. Following, among others, a boy called Anthony from the time he's 14 in the early decade, to his 20th year as France enjoys the hysteria of home World Cup glory in '98, it shows the j There's the ring of a Ken Loach film about this stylish French novel. And Their Children After Them, which won the Prix Goncourt a couple of years ago and has just been translated into English, is a sunbathed picture of the rural poor in 1990s France, a coming-of-age story etched in sepia, overflowing with nostalgia. Following, among others, a boy called Anthony from the time he's 14 in the early decade, to his 20th year as France enjoys the hysteria of home World Cup glory in '98, it shows the joys of young love and lust against a backdrop of failure, a lack of hope and a lost generation with no direction. Many of the teenagers we spend time with suffer from tough upbringings and institutional racism. But Mathieu's stylish prose stops short of making this a gritty affair - This Is England for a French audience this certainly ain't. The structure is clever - we meet the characters every two years as they negotiate their formative summers. It's a story full of subtlety and nuance, addressing lots of issues without really discussing them. The writing and translation are very beautiful. Yet the whole thing lacks a little bit of oomph. There is little really by way of plot and it probably suffers for it. After the long first section, which was fairly nicely contained, the story meanders to an underwhelming finish. Still, it's classy and dripping in nostalgia, especially for those who will identify with coming-of-age in this era.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alexandros Potapidis

    There are two ways one can interpret this book. Either it is a simple narrative of the lives of teenage kids growing into adulthood in an imaginary French town. Their lives existing only in a biennial summer mode between 1992 and 1998, full of sweat, hormones and sex, teenage anxieties, a revulsion for traditional structures, and a constant need to prove they are better than their parents and they will eventually unlock the secrets of creating better lives and a better society, mostly by escapin There are two ways one can interpret this book. Either it is a simple narrative of the lives of teenage kids growing into adulthood in an imaginary French town. Their lives existing only in a biennial summer mode between 1992 and 1998, full of sweat, hormones and sex, teenage anxieties, a revulsion for traditional structures, and a constant need to prove they are better than their parents and they will eventually unlock the secrets of creating better lives and a better society, mostly by escaping Heillange. Or it is a tale of self-reflection of a society that struggles to come to terms with its post-industrial transition, where factories are closing and where new modes of globalised economy are creating chasms between those who are living in the past and those who are busy in shaping the future. The common denominator is found in the hearts and souls of the young people who find themselves lost in the transition. Having experienced the effects of the last vestiges the factories had on their parents, they are yearning for a complete breakdown with that kind of life. A life they find pitiful, moronic, and undignified. The only problem is that they find themselves trapped in lives they abhor and keep repeating the same mistakes that generations after generations are inevitably making. Whether is it taking up temporary and badly paid jobs, accumulating debts while trying to enjoy life, or creating unwanted pregnancies and families (such as in the case of Anthony, his cousin, whose name we never find out, and Hacine). And this is where the title of the book comes in, to remind us the constant movement of human desire to become better but unable to escape the traditional structures. And Their Children After Them will be committing the same future, unable to break down the inevitable. Unless they are fortunate enough to have wealthy parents, understand their role with the help of education and self-inflicted discipline (such as in the case of Stephanie), and realise that their future lies in distant places where human endeavour is transforming lives instead of repeating a cycle of self-absorbing dissolution of human energy. And Their Children After Them is one of a long list of books that outlines the anxieties and precariousness of traditional societies of small towns whose whole economies (and sometimes existence) evolve around the local factory or industry. The uncertainties created by globalisation following the closures of these factories and industries have a profound impact on the coherence of the traditional social structure of these towns. The men working in these industries were perceived as the breadwinners, whose salary justified their role as the head of the nuclear family, had a purpose, and saw themselves as the backbone of their society. When the factories closed and the men lost their jobs, they also lost a part of themselves, a purpose in their lives. Their unemployment had a series of repercussions in their immediate family structure. They started drinking, beating their wives and children, committed suicide, or just left their family. In the best of scenarios they became a shadow of their previous selves. The most recent book that examines this trend is the Booker prize winner of 2020, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. It describes Glasgow’s working class population in the 1980s that is coming to terms with privatisation and closures of coal mines and the implications this has in local societies. Nicolas Mathieu’s writing is a combination of philosophy and vulgarity at the same time. Or more precisely, he has an ability to put any banal issue into a philosophical examination that transcends its initial meaning. Let’s take the word “slut” for example. Mathieu offers the subject in question a moral power because she (in our case it is always a “she”) holds together a structure that explains the interactions within our society. “Morality was pursuing a political project that didn’t speak its name, that of limiting the possibilities for disorder that Helene contained. To restrain the effects of her beauty. To curb the excess power at her disposal thanks to her arse” (p. 136). On another occasion, when describing Hacine’s thirst to enrich himself, he outlines the finiteness of everything, even of life itself. However, “profit alone seemed to have the power to keep death at a distance” (p. 174). And Their Children After Them is not only a lesson in sociology. It is foremost an enjoyable and griping reading of adolescent kids who ride bikes, steal, make love, disregard their parents, party, drink, do drugs, and get into fights in the France of the 1990s. For some unexplained reason, they tend to behave exactly the same way in their early 20s, even though they start families and have jobs. It is not uncommon for young people to ignore the tomorrow and live every moment as if it is their last one. But Nicolas Mathieu’s characters have taken it to another level, disregarding any consequences of their actions and championing stupidity above everything. They also do not like to queue when it comes to going to toilet (at least in the case of men). They prefer the nature or a quiet street to relieve themselves. As a bonus for any football fans that have memories of the 1998 World Cup, you will read the last few chapters with a feeling of nostalgia and a certain degree of sentimentality.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pauline Van etc.

    « Leurs enfants après eux » won the 2018 Prix Goncourt. The novel follows the lives of teenagers in a former industrial town, now quite poor, in the eastern part of France. It has been called a realist novel and I could not agree more with that statement. You sometimes even feel like a voyeuristic reader when you follow them when they share their most intimate moments. The book was not particularly optimistic, dealing with the seemingly inescapable social reproduction of working class kids who s « Leurs enfants après eux » won the 2018 Prix Goncourt. The novel follows the lives of teenagers in a former industrial town, now quite poor, in the eastern part of France. It has been called a realist novel and I could not agree more with that statement. You sometimes even feel like a voyeuristic reader when you follow them when they share their most intimate moments. The book was not particularly optimistic, dealing with the seemingly inescapable social reproduction of working class kids who seem aware of their fate and yet unable to escape to a better destiny. I find that Mathieu does a good job at showing the real and cruel divide between privileged and working class kids and the grace of certain everyday things. I did not have high expectations about the book and I can’t say I found it amazing. However, it is a good book about the transition between childhood and adulthood as well as a fair picture of suffering communities in rural France.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katie Mercer

    This book served call me by your name, small-town nostalgia all DAY. I felt transported back to the insufferable teenager years of trying your best to be perceived a certain way “cool” in your small town but somehow there was that one person who saw you for who you really were and that ignited something. the love story is epic all be it not concluding how i expected.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Kaye

    Overall a pretty depressing read, which I eventually finished 2 months after starting it! Disappointing given the reviews I had read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Charles Heath

    What a terrible book! Man, whoever it is that is recommending "globetrotting" works in translation (looking at you, New York Times) found another DUD that is only surpassed in terribleness by Hurricane Season. Hello, friend! Are you still with me? Do you like slangy French dialogue translated by a nonagenarian American into its 1990s US English equivalent? Do you like completely forgettable teenage characters residing outside of a YA novel? We will get to the teenage sex later. Is there anything m What a terrible book! Man, whoever it is that is recommending "globetrotting" works in translation (looking at you, New York Times) found another DUD that is only surpassed in terribleness by Hurricane Season. Hello, friend! Are you still with me? Do you like slangy French dialogue translated by a nonagenarian American into its 1990s US English equivalent? Do you like completely forgettable teenage characters residing outside of a YA novel? We will get to the teenage sex later. Is there anything more moribund, more depressing, more mechanical and less fulfilling than teenage sex? I mean people amirite Throughout this alleged "coming of age" story, some remnant of someone's idea of multi-ethnic France couples it with some (slightly) interesting takes on neoliberalism. WHUT. The consequences of these tangled dead end losers, ground under capitalism, unfold in very uninteresting ways. Rodarmor’s bilious and comical translation (unintended) makes one think he has never in his eighty years engaged in a conversation with an American. Or ever seen a teenager in real life. Or lived in the decades he is translating. But one that maybe watched MTV in the Eighties and saw the film Clueless. I mean this books reads like it was written by Alicia Silverstone's character...? Imagine French teenagers talking like Valley Girls. This is a shaggy, aimless story. LOL DIALOGUE. Its descriptive language is comically bad, with phrases any creative writing instructor would banish from her class ... Mathieu’s melodramatic tale is mimetic almost to a fault of the smallness of the social conditions it seeks to convey. And yet, I couldn’t (wait to) put the book down. It is like picking a hangnail. This book AINT Camus. It AINT Houellebecq. It aint even Knaussgard on seek mode. And what is with the Cousin? Who r3emained nameless to provide an air of mystery? Whose looks were so beautiful, people had to direct their gaze away from his beauty. His unspeakable beauty. What happened to him. I mean after the first section he was mentioned once LOL There is a whiff of Camus’s The Stranger, as if Camus FARTED his story of the centuries-long confrontation between the white Frenchman and the Arab, the colonizer and the colonized, the native and the interloper. In this book, each are dicks. And WTF was that knife? Chekhov's knife, for chrissakes? This novel (if I may use the term loosely, it is novel like the coronavirus, has been celebrated for its social sensitivities. But come on. The French know, better than anyone, that their coexistence with other human beings in relations of equality and freedom is NOT possible without violence and drunkeness. HIGHLY OBJECTIONABLE THIS! TERRIBLE NOVEL! AVOID AT ALL COSTS! The teenage sex OMIGOD roll your eyes BAD. Have you seen the sex scenes in Tu Mama Tambien? This book makes those TERRIBLE scenes almost stimulating. If you like turgid teenage genitalia descriptions that go on for pages, READ ME.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tuti

    (read in french) this book is the 2018 prix goncourt and it is fantastically well-deserved, a marvelous achievement! it follows the life of a few characters, anthony, a 14 year old boy at the start of the story, his father patrick, an aloholic, steph, a girl he is interested in, and hacine, a boy of the same age as anthony, of morrocan origine. through these characters, whom we meet throughout the nineties, in different episodes every two years, emerges the story of a whole region and, finally, (read in french) this book is the 2018 prix goncourt and it is fantastically well-deserved, a marvelous achievement! it follows the life of a few characters, anthony, a 14 year old boy at the start of the story, his father patrick, an aloholic, steph, a girl he is interested in, and hacine, a boy of the same age as anthony, of morrocan origine. through these characters, whom we meet throughout the nineties, in different episodes every two years, emerges the story of a whole region and, finally, a whole country, france in the nineties, of which emerged todays france. the book is sensationally well written, the characters vivid and absolutely credible, their stories true and interesting, the dialogues natural and fluid and necessary. the scenes are beautifully constructed, the multiple ways in which they cross each others paths wonderfully set. through it all, the image of a valley in eastern france emerges, in an era when the metal industry is no longer functioning, when unemployment and immigration have long become an issue and municipality is trying to come up with something else (tourisme? a regata?) for keeping alive this small city by a lake. this lake plays a defining role in the stories and destinies of the characters, and they all influence each others lifes in ways so subtle and intricate that one can only marvel at the talent of this author and the world he created. very highly recommended!

  12. 4 out of 5

    L.M.

    The reviews suggest that you either love or hate this book. I liked the general idea of it, but it's so poorly executed: Sex, drugs, and violence - that's the quintessence of the characters' mindset. It's obvious to me that the author wanted to express the hopelessness and boredom of two generations in the postindustrial no-man's-land in France. Trying to depict the conflicts of different classes, the author misses the details, the exceptional. Instead, he generalizes, describes a protagonist you The reviews suggest that you either love or hate this book. I liked the general idea of it, but it's so poorly executed: Sex, drugs, and violence - that's the quintessence of the characters' mindset. It's obvious to me that the author wanted to express the hopelessness and boredom of two generations in the postindustrial no-man's-land in France. Trying to depict the conflicts of different classes, the author misses the details, the exceptional. Instead, he generalizes, describes a protagonist you can't relate with, and the whole story is cliché-ridden. The uncountable adolescent sex scenes become unbearable throughout the chapters.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Braekeveldt

    I honestly believe they misspelled the Prix Goncourt. With this book the first "G " should be a "C". I wonder who was in the jury this year.... I honestly believe they misspelled the Prix Goncourt. With this book the first "G " should be a "C". I wonder who was in the jury this year....

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andy Weston

    The Prix Goncourt winner (2018), and a rarity for me, a contemporary French novel, though I read plenty of crime, noir, and older stuff. After a solid beginning, life in eastern France is painted as a panorama of povery, boredom, lust, drugs, petty crime and racial tension. It wasn’t long however before my attention began to wander. I can certainly cope with dislikable characters, in fact the dark and cynical dialogue is a strength of the book. But the narration is unclear and noiseless, many pa The Prix Goncourt winner (2018), and a rarity for me, a contemporary French novel, though I read plenty of crime, noir, and older stuff. After a solid beginning, life in eastern France is painted as a panorama of povery, boredom, lust, drugs, petty crime and racial tension. It wasn’t long however before my attention began to wander. I can certainly cope with dislikable characters, in fact the dark and cynical dialogue is a strength of the book. But the narration is unclear and noiseless, many passages overlong, lacking impact; ultimately disappointing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cameryn Celestina

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 3.50 stars liked some parts and characters, didn’t like others. the writing was beautiful. main character was a no-life for the entire book and the cover doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. the main romance was frustrating but the ending, although bittersweet, wrapped up the book nicely.

  16. 4 out of 5

    kelsey

    Small towns with wealth inequality, racism, and toxic masculinity are universal. Mathieu's novel about four 1990's summers in a fictional French valley makes you feel like you're visiting your own hometown. Small towns with wealth inequality, racism, and toxic masculinity are universal. Mathieu's novel about four 1990's summers in a fictional French valley makes you feel like you're visiting your own hometown.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Wally Wood

    And Their Children After Them, Nicolas Mathieu's second novel (translated from the French by William Rodamor), won France's prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt. That's one reason to read it. Another is that it's an engaging and absorbing portrayal of a slice of French life with which most of us are entirely unfamiliar. The title comes from the Wisdom of Sirach (also known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus): "There are others who are not remembered, as if they had never lived, who died and w And Their Children After Them, Nicolas Mathieu's second novel (translated from the French by William Rodamor), won France's prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt. That's one reason to read it. Another is that it's an engaging and absorbing portrayal of a slice of French life with which most of us are entirely unfamiliar. The title comes from the Wisdom of Sirach (also known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus): "There are others who are not remembered, as if they had never lived, who died and were forgotten, they, and their children after them." Those are the lives Mathieu evokes: small lives in a small town who die and are forgotten. The novel begins in the summer of 1992, jumps to 1994, to 1996, and finally to 1998. It follows a group of teenagers in the imaginary French town of Heillange, a formerly prosperous (if noisy and polluted) steel-making town. Now the blast furnaces are derelict, the workers unemployed, underemployed, or pensioned off, and their children are pretty much on their own. In 1992, a heatwave is broiling Heillange, weed is in sort supply, and a song by Nirvana "that usually made you want to smash a guitar or set fire to your school" is spreading like a virus. Fourteen-year-old Andrew Casati is bored out of his skull. Lazing around the dull side of the local lake, Anthony and his cousin decide to steal a canoe to find out what it's like on the other side, at the famous nudist beach. The choices Anthony makes that day shape everything that happens in the rest of the novel, from an enduring crush to a collision with a boy named Hacine, son of Moroccan parents, who lives in a decaying housing project. Children is a picaresque novel that follows Andrew, his parents, his friends, his enemies, and their parents. The book is stuffed with characters, but Mathieu moves easily from the point of view to another, from Andrew's alcoholic father as his marriage collapses to Hacine who deals drugs. These are working-class teens who smoke dope, drink far too much, and, in the heat of the moment, engage in unprotected sex. The book, however, is more than the comings and goings of the characters, interesting as those are; Mathieu wants more; he wants to show the effects of immigration and globalization without preaching. For example, here's Hacine's father: He "had emigrated from a poor country and found something of a refuge in Heillange. At the steel mill, he had taken orders for forty years, while being punctual, falsely docile, and an Arab, always. He very quickly understood that the hierarchy at work was determined by more than skills, seniority, or diplomas. Among the workers there were three classes. The lowest was reserved for blacks and North Africans like himself. Above him were the Poles, Yugoslavs, Italians, and the least competent French. To get any job higher than that, you had to be born in France; that was all there was to it." While the novel tells a number of stories, it has no neat plot, no inciting incident, rising tension, climax, and resolution. It does have fascinating snapshots of French life, conventions, and expectations. Anthony, for example, sees no future in Heillange. He "passed the technological baccalauiréat without having to take the orals, and also without any illusions about what would happen next." He joins the Army, injures a knee playing soccer, the Army washes him out, and he returns to Heillange. So much for escaping your fate. Mathieu was born in Épinal, France, in 1978. His first novel, Aux animaux in la guerre, was published in 2014. He says he was visiting an old postindustrial site to get some documentation in a small town call Uckange. It was late and the place was deserted. He knew he wanted to write about teenagers and deindustrialization, about a small town and youth. He was listening to music when suddenly a live version of Bruce Springsteen's The River came on. Springsteen speaks about his youth, relationships with his father, etc., and then the song begins. It inspired Mathieu to tell the same story, one of father and son dynamics, of appetites, and of limits.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elsa Williams

    finally a nice french (!!!!) required read (!!!!!!) not that it’s great either lol. pros: reads really well (550 pages divided up into 4 parts), intertwined plot lines, tackles social issues, touches upon 1998 world cup, summery feel (would recommend as summer read) cons: cringe and inaccurate dialogues (no teen talks like that), clearly written by a man (constant mention of women’s breasts when female characters are being described - like is that relevant? does it tell me anything about the woman finally a nice french (!!!!) required read (!!!!!!) not that it’s great either lol. pros: reads really well (550 pages divided up into 4 parts), intertwined plot lines, tackles social issues, touches upon 1998 world cup, summery feel (would recommend as summer read) cons: cringe and inaccurate dialogues (no teen talks like that), clearly written by a man (constant mention of women’s breasts when female characters are being described - like is that relevant? does it tell me anything about the woman? highly doubt it), clearly written by a FRENCH man (very french), nothing really happens

  19. 4 out of 5

    Osyth

    In Nicholas Mathieu’s novel ‘And Their Children After Them’ (translated by William Rodarmor), we are at the effect of both sexual and racial tension.  The novel is set in a fictional valley in the ‘rust belt’ of eastern France.   At the outset,  Anthony, the main character is fourteen.  His main rival, Hacine is French-born of Moroccan parents, and three years older.  Both are bottom feeders and have fathers who worked together at the iron foundry, were laid off when it closed down, and who are In Nicholas Mathieu’s novel ‘And Their Children After Them’ (translated by William Rodarmor), we are at the effect of both sexual and racial tension.  The novel is set in a fictional valley in the ‘rust belt’ of eastern France.   At the outset,  Anthony, the main character is fourteen.  His main rival, Hacine is French-born of Moroccan parents, and three years older.  Both are bottom feeders and have fathers who worked together at the iron foundry, were laid off when it closed down, and who are now unemployed.  At the heart of the story is the latent distrust and conflict between the indigenous white population and the immigrant North African community; unemployment and lack of hope passed like a baton down the generations; and the widening gulf between the poor and their wealthier, ever upwardly mobile, white-collar neighbours.  A substrate of fear, contempt, abuse and escape through booze and drugs runs consistently through the novel.  Sex plays a huge role.  Desire, arousal, sexual sating, impotence, the dissolution of passion.   Although certainly a coming of age tale of the boys and a cast of other adolescents, at the heart of the story is an older woman.  Hélène is Anthony’s  overprotective mother.   In her youth, she was the hottest girl in town: ‘She and her sister loved to dance.  They picked up boys, cut classes, bought pointy bras, listened to Âge tendre on the radio.  In the neighbourhood, people already called them sluts …. Hélène had the most beautiful ass in town’.  (p.p  135)  She dumped ambitious Gérard for Patrick.  Gérard fulfilled all his promise and is living the dream on the Mediterranean coast.   Patrick did not, leaving her married to an impotent, angry drunk.   She has the indignity of a social worker visiting, making recommendations, poking through her life as a result of what is enigmatically referred to as ‘the accident’.  Now knocking on the door of forty,  she is still aware of her sexuality and loves sex.  With no satisfaction from Patrick, she sleeps with a co-worker and outside of those liaisons, pleasures herself at every opportunity: ‘When driving, she would sometimes need to stop by the roadside to caress herself and come very quickly while some thirty-two-ton semi roared by, shaking the Opel Kadett.’ (p.p 138) We first meet her at the tip-point between tipsy and drunk, on a Friday evening when Anthony appears home desperate to get to a party twenty-five kilometres away.  Although she knows what the consequences will be if he is caught, she encourages her son to take her husband’s trophy motorbike.  Never used, it sits under a tarpaulin, reminding Patrick of the small-time, racing king of the track and road he was when she first knew him, seduced him, married him and had their child.  Now, the bike is a bitter reminder of his past,  but he can’t bring himself to get rid of it.  Anthony, recalls for her the ghost of the young man her husband was and flatters younger self, assuming: ‘this is about a girl, isn’t it?’ (p.p. 40) She gives her blessing to him to go to the party.   The following day, he reappears having lost the bike and knowing that Hacine, bitter at being barred from the party,  stole it.  Sober, she festers with fury, and fear that Patrick will find out.   So it is she who demands that Anthony accompany her to Hacine’s home, she who confronts his gently spoken Arabic father, she who therefore causes Hacine to be brutally beaten by his shamed parent and she who is the catalyst for the bike being returned and set fire to on their scrap of lawn by its furious and vengeful thief.  The result is that she flees with Anthony, and her tattered family is irreparably scorched to ashes. Hélène holds herself together.  Proud of her slender figure and her still youthful looks, she ignores the neighbours who call her a slut behind her back.  ‘Time was passing, so what?  Her butt still fit into those tattered 501s she’d found in the back of her closet.  Men still turned to look as she walked by’ (p.p. 134) Scared of her husband, scared for her son, she goes through the motions of preparing simple meals, keeping the modest house tidy, escaping to work and trying to keep her dignity, and mostly she clings to her looks: ‘She still had her looks and saw no reason why she should hide her legs or her belly, much less her ass.  Above all, she still wanted her share of love’ (p.p. 137). In the second act, the central event is the death of one of the iron workers from silicosis.  He and his wife were best friends of Patrick and Hélène.  The funeral will be the first time the estranged couple have met since the acrimony of their divorce which has reduced Patrick to living in a tiny apartment in a seedy part of town: ‘There he was, twenty pounds lighter, dried out, balding and knotty.  His fangs blunted.  What was left of him?’ (p.p. 248).  Hélène fared better.  Their son lives with her, she has a duplex apartment, the book-keeping job she has always had, and her freedom.  Always something of a free spirit, she has liberated herself from shackles of her violent and resentful husband.   After the service, a wake is set up at a tiny  bar in town.   Immediately after the beating and bike-fire, Hacine’s father drove him back to Morocco to live with his mother.  There he became something of a star courier for hashish smuggled to France, made real money and then lost it all on a bogus property deal.  Shamed yet again, he has returned to Heillange, with aspirations to take over as the drug lord of the valley and to take revenge on Anthony, who he sees as the protagonist of all his strife.  In the hot and crowded bar, Hélène recognises Hacine.  When Anthony makes a move to go to the men's room and Hacine follows, she instantly and urgently triggers Patrick: ‘ “Patrick!” she repeated.  Now she was pleading with him’ (p.p. 267)  She knows, absolutely, what her ex husband will do,  what the consequences will be.  This is the man she was shackled to for almost twenty years, and he has a vicious temper.  When he walks into the toilet, he sees not only his child being assaulted, but the perceived perpetrator of his downfall.  In his mind, Hacine was the reason he lost his wife, his home, everything.  He locks the door and Hacine’s ideas of becoming a big-shot in this small town are smashed to pulp.  Hélène has pulled the trigger on the available gun.    At the end of the book, Anthony's aspirations have evaporated in the heat of the summers he came of age  through.   With his pitiful but abusive father gone, Anthony is now the standard bearer for the bleak future that awaits him and his children after him.  Yet Hélène is content: ‘Memories got scattered like loose change.  She put the episodes in order and worked out a story that suited her’ (p.p 418).  The victim has ultimately survived and achieved the peace she craved.   By using a secondary character as the catalyst for the critical events in the story arc, we are somewhat removed and able to process the actions and consequences in a more detached way which in its turn heightens the indifference that creeps up and encircles the main characters. The book is an eloquent and painful rendition of the reality of life and aspirations in much of France, rusting and rotting to dust.  Mathieu evokes his place and his people with precision giving his readers a raw, candid taste of life in once prosperous, now forgotten areas.  The tensions he creates between wealthy and poor, whites and immigrants is acute. Lack of hope inches up on the young,  smothering their bravado, and the pervasive sense of ennui is  delivered with panache and pathos.

  20. 5 out of 5

    William Koon

    Nicolas Mathieu writes an engaging novel of la France profonde, or Deep France. Here are youths and elders abandoned by the reaches of modern economics and the changes contemporary mores bring. The mills have closed down. Nothing has replaced them. Blame goes on the immigrants. The youths have nothing but drugs and alcohol. Marriages grow stale and weary. Alcohol and right wing politics absorb the elders. Mathieu describes in detail and does not judge. And we do not either; we stand away and obs Nicolas Mathieu writes an engaging novel of la France profonde, or Deep France. Here are youths and elders abandoned by the reaches of modern economics and the changes contemporary mores bring. The mills have closed down. Nothing has replaced them. Blame goes on the immigrants. The youths have nothing but drugs and alcohol. Marriages grow stale and weary. Alcohol and right wing politics absorb the elders. Mathieu describes in detail and does not judge. And we do not either; we stand away and observe also and make no judgements about the wasted lives and the violence and the casual sex. In many ways this work is a throw back to works such as Dreiser and Zola. Yet, the novel is contemporary. (Granted the setting is thirty to twenty-two years ago, but the problems remain of the empty villages and the new hyper-marché E. Leclerc on the edge of town. The “Commercial Zone” with McDonald’s replaces the shops and the bars and the community. Mathieu’s use of structure and language astound as does the vitality of the translation by William Rodarmor. If you desire a change from the bombast of Michel Houellebecq, here you go.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    This novel begins relatively well, presenting a matter of fact portait of the left-behind kids and parents of a typical post-industrial Nowheresville in eastern France. It's panorama of povery, boredom, lust, drugs (when available), petty crime and inter generational conflict: the usual. However, as you gradually get used to the authorial voice, things increasingly fall apart. While the action and the characters are perfectly acceptable and genial losers and/or wankers, the author insists on dro This novel begins relatively well, presenting a matter of fact portait of the left-behind kids and parents of a typical post-industrial Nowheresville in eastern France. It's panorama of povery, boredom, lust, drugs (when available), petty crime and inter generational conflict: the usual. However, as you gradually get used to the authorial voice, things increasingly fall apart. While the action and the characters are perfectly acceptable and genial losers and/or wankers, the author insists on dropping in various slices of six-form sociology and half-baked political commentary in a dispiriting exhibition of "tell, don't show". Virginie Despentes or Michel Houellebecq's books survive and thrive on the power of the voice that drives them. They may be dark, cynical, devasted or even plain nasty voices, but they have the rhetorical stamina to lend structure, depth and meaning to the worlds they inhabit. The voice here is a faint and weak one, a vaguely concerned murmur that leaves little impression and ultimately disappoints.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    A spilled inkwell set into action by a 14 year old boy wanting to see naked girls. Seems commonplace enough, but in lieu of cleaning up the mess, Mathieu lets the the ink slow-flow through the grooves and divots of the 1990s drawing board. A dysfunctionate and affectional domino effect that often turns left though the right blinker's been on for miles. A spilled inkwell set into action by a 14 year old boy wanting to see naked girls. Seems commonplace enough, but in lieu of cleaning up the mess, Mathieu lets the the ink slow-flow through the grooves and divots of the 1990s drawing board. A dysfunctionate and affectional domino effect that often turns left though the right blinker's been on for miles.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Meek

    Felt like I was drifting through the summers, not just in France, but anywhere that wouldn't be considered successful. I wished for a bit of optimism at the end and I do believe that the novel ends with just a dab of it. Anthony's story played out well, as did Steph's. Wish we got more of a conclusion for Hacine's story though. Felt like I was drifting through the summers, not just in France, but anywhere that wouldn't be considered successful. I wished for a bit of optimism at the end and I do believe that the novel ends with just a dab of it. Anthony's story played out well, as did Steph's. Wish we got more of a conclusion for Hacine's story though.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Currently my favorite book read in 2020. I read it all in one night. Nicolas Mathieu describes the ordinary tragedies with a precise and fine style, without self pity or miserability. A summer of boredom in sultriness. And it is great

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rhian Coekin

    This was a page turner and very nostalgic - about bored youth growing up in France. A coming of age book. Not loss happens and it’s very comforting although I found a lot of loose ends at the end which was a little disappointing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Pow Wow

    Typical French social realism, with well developed characters though and not as deterministic and miserabilist as you might initially assume.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Fettig

    This book felt like it was plodding along, but I couldn't look away. And well into my next book, I was still thinking about the characters from this one. This book felt like it was plodding along, but I couldn't look away. And well into my next book, I was still thinking about the characters from this one.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    This book was, in a word, incredible. Interweaving the stories of two boys and a girl in the Rust Belt of France over four summers in the '90s, Mathieu ought to be included in the same breath as Roth in so convincingly giving a voice to the inner psyche of adolescence in all its awkwardness and frustration. The main characters, all desperate to leave their suffocating town of Heillange, fear being defined by their fathers, an alcoholic deadbeat, a worker beat down from years of recessions, strik This book was, in a word, incredible. Interweaving the stories of two boys and a girl in the Rust Belt of France over four summers in the '90s, Mathieu ought to be included in the same breath as Roth in so convincingly giving a voice to the inner psyche of adolescence in all its awkwardness and frustration. The main characters, all desperate to leave their suffocating town of Heillange, fear being defined by their fathers, an alcoholic deadbeat, a worker beat down from years of recessions, strikes, and the scorn of others for being a Moroccan immigrant, and a politically ambitious luxury car salesman forever looking for the approval of his rich clients he hopes to compare with. Over four summers of theft, violence, and the general debauchery of youth, these three teens and their friends around them realize the impending threat of adulthood and following in their fathers' footsteps. In words reminiscent of Ralph's "infinite cynicism of adult life" in Lord of the Flies, the teens come to understand that their days of carefree fun, pining for love, and wide-eyed idealism are quickly coming to an end: "Being an adult means knowing that there is more than having the love of your life, or the other bullshit that filled magazine pages: doing well, living your passions, being a big success. Because there's also time, death, and the endless war that life wages against you." What made this novel so stunning was how beautifully symmetric Mathieu wove together the narrative. The ending chapter, so powerfully and naturally mirroring the first summer of the book, still comes as a surprise. There is no real closure for the characters, no definitive last line of love or death, both endings in their own way plausible, nor should there be. This is not a romantic comedy, nor is it a tragedy. Like the title suggests, the teens are left caught in a familiar and vicious cycle, living in a liminal space between the good times that could have been and the threat of despair and lonely destitution that hangs forever over them, as Their Parents Before Them.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tom Pepper

    A good novel, reminiscent of Zola. About the effects of globalization in the 1990s on the lives and futures of young French people. A bit depressing, and sometimes goes in a bit much for the kind of thing that works well on TV serializations—lots of overly detailed sex, and the usual stereotype about the Arab kid turning to drug dealing. Sometimes reads like a long treatment for a Hulu series. Also, the girls and women in the novel seem, to me at least, to be mostly male fantasies of what women A good novel, reminiscent of Zola. About the effects of globalization in the 1990s on the lives and futures of young French people. A bit depressing, and sometimes goes in a bit much for the kind of thing that works well on TV serializations—lots of overly detailed sex, and the usual stereotype about the Arab kid turning to drug dealing. Sometimes reads like a long treatment for a Hulu series. Also, the girls and women in the novel seem, to me at least, to be mostly male fantasies of what women are like—the male characters are much more realistic. Mathieu presents women as obsessed with sex, but mostly unbothered by any of the problems caused by deindustrialization and the bad economy. While men struggle, turn to drinking, and die in poverty, women go on contentedly working and, once finally freed of their drunken and depressed husbands, having a nice life in middle age. Even one young woman who works to get into a good college winds up defined by how this affect her sexual appeal (she gets chubby!). Men fall into depression over the empty routine of endless underpaid temporary jobs, but women are unbothered by such things, content with tedium and small pleasures like television soaps, and never turn to addiction or worry about the meaninglessness of their lives. I’m not sure all women are as mindless as those presented here. Still, as a novel about how the economic change has impacted the lives of working-class men (or men in what would once have been the working class), this is very good. I suppose we’ll have to turn to a woman writer to get a more realistic picture of how it has impacted women. Any suggestions?

  30. 5 out of 5

    wynter

    And Their Children After Them is the first French novel I’ve read (in its English translation). I’m not sure what I was expecting—something closer to the French version of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, maybe? By which I mean: a kaleidoscopic coming-of-age story focused on the consequences of a single summer told from multiple POVs. Technically, Mathieu’s novel is that, but it lacks the authenticity that makes coming-of-age narratives compelling. It isn’t that the characters are unlikable, tho And Their Children After Them is the first French novel I’ve read (in its English translation). I’m not sure what I was expecting—something closer to the French version of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, maybe? By which I mean: a kaleidoscopic coming-of-age story focused on the consequences of a single summer told from multiple POVs. Technically, Mathieu’s novel is that, but it lacks the authenticity that makes coming-of-age narratives compelling. It isn’t that the characters are unlikable, though they are. Salinger and Highsmith have definitively proven that “unlikeable” is hardly a fatal charge to levy against a novel’s protagonist. It’s more that the characters fail to inspire any emotion, let alone one as powerful as dislike. The cast in this novel is large, and I had a very hard time caring about anyone. All of the characters, especially those that were focal points, felt like contrived versions of the classic “tragic hero,” dooming themselves with their decisions, victims of self-destruction more than circumstance. The biggest problem, I think, was that Mathieu took more pains to educate his readers than to tell a story. At the end of the novel, I knew exactly how Mathieu felt about labor politics and capitalism, immigration and xenophobia, wealth and class privilege, but I didn’t feel like I knew Anthony, Hacine, Steph, or any of the secondary characters. By most measures, this is a 2-star book—but the sex scenes are truly well done and, because sex is notoriously hard to write well, I’m bumping my rating up a star. 3 stars

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