David Foenkinos wrote a slick novel about the boy who just missed out on the role of Harry Potter ★★★☆☆


David PhoenkinosSculpture Francesca Mantovani

What happens to someone who just falls short, who ends up being rejected? It happens to everyone and often more than once, in love, in life.

There is a boy who, before the film adaptation of JK Rowling’s novel saga, did not end up becoming Harry Potter, the character that has captivated millions of readers for 25 years. Billions of people know his image, his fight against evil is followed perhaps with greater enthusiasm than the Messiah.

What happened to one boy after he was told that not he, but his only remaining competitor would be Harry Potter, despite his close physical resemblance to the novel character, his natural acting talent, and the remarkable imagination he displayed during the auditions? ? How can someone who was so close put into perspective that he has not become the face of such a phenomenon, indeed of an entire era?

About that data Number two, the new novel by French author David Foenkinos, who, as is often the case, shows a fine nose for poignant, topical and juicy subjects. Even Harry Potter haters can be gripped by the fate of Daniel Radcliffe’s sad and hapless rival, the boy who put a face on the phenomenon.

‘Tragedy’

Foenkinos himself calls the story a tragedy in the first sentence. With this he refers to the Greek classics, where people are struck by fate. Medea takes revenge on her unfaithful husband by killing both of their children; Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and unknowingly marries his mother, by whom he fathers four children. When he hears what he has done, he gouges out his eyes and walks the earth from then on. That is the essence of the tragedy.

Martin Hill named the boy who was unlucky enough not to be chosen as Harry Potter. It’s a huge blow for him, also because his parents have recently divorced and he basically has nothing to fall back on. For years nothing or no one can comfort him; not the abiding love of his parents, and later not the love and affection of women who want to care for him. The pain of jealousy flares up again and again, amplified by the visual culture we live in. The image determines the degree of our success, our happiness. And Martin Hill is not in the picture. He even prefers to make himself invisible, as Harry Potter can do, to avoid confrontation with reality.

If this story is a tragedy, it may be because we organize our world through pictures and images, not through anything of real value. We wander in that world, blind to what matters. However, it is our choice rather than our fate, although it seems that Martin Hill will be struck by fate.

Thin story

All this seems heavy, but Foenkinos’s prose is remarkably light. He tells his story as if he were sitting by your bed and letting your imagination run wild. Smooth, with clever twists and turns to create excitement without straining the mind too much. None of the characters get very close to the reader, they are lightly drawn characters with no more weight than a one-day butterfly. Even Martin Hill remains shallowly sketched, his sadness and his jealousy his main characteristics, a paltry person. In the end, he manages to escape his doom. It is friendship that opens his eyes and reconciles him to his fate. And once freed from jealousy, he is also capable of love. His life can still begin.

No, it is not the stuff of tragedy, rather the human comedy with its misunderstandings, its hopes, expectations and disappointments, also with a happy ending. I can already see the slick film in front of me. Still, there is something about this story that leaves an unforgettable impression, the description of the image that swallows everything, determines everything, creates and breaks people.

A thin story with a dark undertone.

David Foenkinos, number two – the boy who just failed to become Harry Potter. Translated from the French by Jef de Temmerman. Borgerhoff-Lamberigts; 246 pages; €22.99.

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