One of our recommended books for 2020 is Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné

REAL LIFE


The innocence of fairy tales meets the terror of a Stephen King thriller in this international bestseller by Belgian author Adeline Dieudonné. A #1 bestseller in France, Real Life has won 14 prestigious European literary awards, is being translated into 20 languages and was just selected by the American Booksellers Association as the only translated debut honored as part of their Indies Introduce program. In Real Life, the young heroine struggles to free herself from her abusive father and indifferent mother through science, education, and courageous resilience and reminds us of Turtle in Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling.

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The innocence of fairy tales meets the terror of a Stephen King thriller in this international bestseller by Belgian author Adeline Dieudonné. A #1 bestseller in France, Real Life has won 14 prestigious European literary awards, is being translated into 20 languages and was just selected by the American Booksellers Association as the only translated debut honored as part of their Indies Introduce program. In Real Life, the young heroine struggles to free herself from her abusive father and indifferent mother through science, education, and courageous resilience and reminds us of Turtle in Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling.

At home there are four bedrooms: one for her, one for her little brother Sam, one for her parents, and one for the carcasses. Her father is a big-game hunter, a powerful predator, and her mother is submissive to her violent husband’s demands. The young narrator spends the days with Sam, playing in the shells of cars dumped for scrap and listening out for the melody of the ice-cream truck, until a brutal accident shatters their world. The uncompromising pen of Adeline Dieudonné wields flashes of brilliance as she brings her characters to life in a world that is both dark and sensual. This breathtaking debut is a sharp and funny coming-of-age tale in which reality and fantasy collide.

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  • World Editions
  • Paperback
  • February 2020
  • 266 Pages
  • 9781642860474

Buy the Book

$17.99

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About Adeline Dieudonné & Ronald Glasser (Translator)

Adeline Dieudonné is the author of Real Life, credit Stéphane RemaelAdeline Dieudonné is a Belgian author and lives in Brussels. Real Life, her debut novel, was published in France in Autumn 2018 and has since been awarded most of the major French literary prizes: the prestigious Prix du Roman FNAC, the Prix Rossel, the Prix Renaudot des Lycéens, the Prix Goncourt―Le Choix de la Belgique, the Prix des Étoiles du Parisien, the Prix Première Plume, and the Prix Filigrane, a French prize for a work of high literary quality with wide appeal. Dieudonné also performs as a stand-up comedian.

Praise

“A deeply disturbing, furiously tender, and darkly comedic debut.” Kirkus Reviews

“A fabulous novel.” —Julie Malaure, Le Point

“Terrible and funny” —Nicolas Carreau, Europe 1

“A brilliant feat.” —Olivia de Lamberterie, ELLE

“A novel both savage and captivating.” —François Busnel, La Grande Librairie, France 5

“The page sparkles.” —Bernard Pivot, JDD

“A tremendous energy. A new voice. Mind-blowing.” —Pierre Assouline, La République des Livres

“Bitter, raw and fast-paced: a tale that’s filled with a hunger for life.” —Alain Lorfévre, La Libre Belgique

“A magnificent heroine of freedom and intelligence.” —Bruno Corty, Le Figaro

“A sense of rhythm, hard-hitting words, and vitriolic humor.” — Coline Serreau, director of Chaos

“Don’t miss out on this debut novel, both cruel and fierce. Adeline Dieudonné makes her entry into literature like a warrior.” — Jérome Garcin, Le Nouvel Observateur

Discussion Questions

1. The book stages a host of colorful characters. Is there any one you found most interesting, and why?

2. Is there a character you think you may have an unusual opinion of—for instance, one you thought was pure at heart, whereas they may have seemed twisted and selfish at a first glance, or the other way round?

3. Is the protagonist delusional, or is she fundamentally correct in her descriptions of her environment?

4. What did you think of the ending? Was it what you had hoped would happen?

5. What does the final event mean for the mother? Is there a parallel with what it means for the protagonist?

6. The incident with the ice-cream truck had a lasting influence on the protagonist’s family; i.e. could it be seen as a catalyst for the family’s eventual happiness?

7. Taking this idea a step further, would anything have ended up being drastically differently in their family, if a time-traveler had come back and prevented the whipped-cream-related explosion?

8. What did you think of the text left on the gun in the climactic final scene? Was it only a surprising twist, or did it retrospectively give you a better understanding of other events in the novel?

9. Does the novel as a whole, including the ending, leave you with a rather bleak or optimistic view of the world, or perhaps neither?

10. Is it fair to conclude that the father was the ultimate source of the downward spiral in the family, and that now things will be better?

11. What does the father represent, perhaps seen in conjunction with his hunter friends? Can they be related to the grotesque vision of life often seen in the protagonist’s thoughts?

12. Is there an important distinction between the professor and the father? If so, what is it? Is the professor a healthier version of the father, or are they in no way comparable?

13. Did you in any way or at any moment side with the father?

14. Were the social dynamics in the Demo relatable for you? Was there anything universally suburban about the place, perhaps?

15. Will you be looking forward to Adeline Dieudonné’s second novel?

Excerpt

Our house had four bedrooms. There was mine, my little brother Sam’s room, that of my parents, and the one with the carcasses.

Deer calves, wild boar, stags. And antelope heads, of all sorts and sizes, including springboks, impalas, gnus, oryxes, and kobus. A few zebras minus their bodies. On a platform stood a complete lion, its fangs clamped around the neck of a small gazelle.

And in a corner was the hyena. Stuffed she may have been, yet she was alive, I was sure of it, and she delighted in the terror she provoked in any gaze that met her own.

In the framed photographs on the wall, my father posed proudly with various dead animals, holding his rifle. He always took the same stance: one foot on the beast, fist on hip, the other hand victoriously brandishing the weapon. All of which made him appear more like a rebel fighter high on genocidal adrenaline than a father.

The centerpiece of his collection, his pride and joy, was an elephant tusk. I had heard him tell my mother one evening that the hardest part wasn’t killing the elephant. No. Killing the beast was as easy as slaughtering a cow in a subway corridor. The real difficulty had been making contact with the poachers and avoiding the patrolling game wardens. And then removing the tusks from the still-warm body: utter carnage. It had all cost him a small fortune. I suppose that’s why he was so proud of his trophy. Killing the elephant was so expensive he’d had to split the cost with another guy. They left with a tusk each.

I liked to stroke the ivory. It was silky smooth and large. But I had to do it behind my father’s back. We were forbidden from entering the carcass room.

* * *

My father was huge with broad shoulders, the build of a slaughterman. He had a giant’s hands. Hands that could have ripped the head off a chick the way you’d pop the cap on a Coke bottle. Besides hunting, my father had two passions in life: television and Scotch whisky. When he wasn’t scouring the planet for animals to kill, he plugged the tv into speakers that had cost as much as a small car, a bottle of Glenfiddich in his hand. And the way he talked at my mother, you could have replaced her with a houseplant and he wouldn’t have known the difference.

My mother lived in dread of my father. I think that’s pretty much all I can say about her, leaving aside her obsession with gardening and miniature goats. She was a thin woman, with long limp hair. I don’t know if she existed before meeting him. I imagine she did. She must have resembled a primitive life form—single-celled, vaguely translucent. An amoeba. Just ectoplasm, endoplasm, a nucleus, and a digestive vacuole.

Years of contact with my father had gradually filled this scrap of nothing with fear. Their wedding photos always intrigued me. As far back as I can remember, I can see myself studying the album in search of a clue. Something that might have explained this weird union. Love, admiration, esteem, joy, a smile … something. I never found it. In the pictures, my father posed as in his hunting photographs, but without the pride. An amoeba doesn’t make a very impressive trophy, that’s for sure. It isn’t hard to catch one: a bit of stagnant water in a glass, and presto!

When my mother got married, she wasn’t frightened yet. It seemed as though someone had just stuck her there, next to this guy, like a vase. As I grew older, I also wondered how this pair had conceived two children: my brother and me. Though I very soon stopped asking myself because the only image that came to mind was a latenight assault on the kitchen table, reeking of whisky. A few rapid, brutal, not exactly consenting jolts, and that was that.

In the main, my mother’s function was to prepare the meals, which she did like an amoeba might, with neither creativity nor taste, but lots of mayonnaise. Ham and cheese melts, peaches stuffed with tuna, deviled eggs, and breaded fish with instant mashed potatoes. Mainly.