Right from jump I will plainly state that a suspension of disbelief is required while reading this novel. With that said it isn’t written as “serious literature” but the book does address a very serious subject matter. Author Marc Levy is a best selling author in his native France but I hadn’t heard of him until about a year ago when Europa Editions published his thriller Replay (a book I have but have not yet read). I decided to try out Levy’s fiction with one of his older works (this one is from 2008). It seemed like a quick read (and it is) and the perfect book to sample his fiction. What would you say if you had the chance to spend a couple of extra days with a deceased loved one? That is the crux of the story behind this part Woody Allen-esque romantic comedy/part fable/part romantic fantasy and a novel which sometimes weaves its way into Milan Kundera romanticism. So yes, this is essentially a “romance” novel that sometimes - but never quite - crosses the line into “chick flick” territory; and just when you think it might cross that line, Levy hits you with a story twist that is right out of the best Kundera fables.
Julia Walsh is a successful animator, creator of cartoon characters that are very popular with children. She lives in a small Greenwich Village apartment, has the “gay best friend”, lives the archetypical young urban woman lifestyle. She is about to be married to her boyfriend Adam and just a few days before her wedding she learns that her father - a successful businessman Anthony Walsh - has passed away at his home in Paris. The funeral is to be held on the day of Julia and Adam’s wedding. With the wedding postponed, Julia now has to take care of her father’s affairs. Being that he was an absentee father and their relationship had been more than dysfunctional, she feels that even in death he somehow manages to throw a monkey wrench into her life. Then one day, she receives a mysterious package - a large crate - in which the proprietor of the store downstairs from her apartment brings up. When she arrives home, she opens the crate (and this is where the suspension of disbelief is very necessary) a replica of her father sitting inside along with a note and a small remote control in his jacket pocket. Stunned by the incredible likeness of her father, she takes the remote from his pocket as instructed and presses the button. Suddenly, her father comes to life - albeit a robotic version of him. He goes on to explain to her that he had invested in a company who created androids of their loved ones with the intention of allowing their customers to spend a few more days with their lost loved ones and that he himself was “a prototype”. Now, as to why Julia would immediately believe this is part of the reason why one must suspend disbelief and I admit I almost shut the book right at this point. How ridiculous a premise, I thought. But something told me to keep reading, see where it goes.
What follows is completely unexpected. Not only does this narrative device provide the way forward for Julia and her father to, as the title says, to say all those things that were never said, the story then takes a slightly darker turn as the reader is then given the details of Julia’s life - and this is where it gets Kundera-esque. Many years before, when she was 18, she desperately sought freedom to live her own life and about the direction her life was to take. She flees to Paris to study art (rather than remain in New York to study law like her father wanted her to). While in Paris she connects with a group of strangers who had just learned that there was something historic was taking place in Berlin. The wall was about to come down and these young, idealistic and eager students wanted to witness history as it happened. They all decide, on a whim, to drive to Berlin to be there for this momentous event. It is there Julia meets Thomas - an East German student who in the chaos of change crosses into the west. They are soon romantically involved.
We are privy to Thomas’s life behind the iron curtain - the fear, the 24/7 surveillance, the constant harassment from the Stasi. But Thomas struggles with his new found freedom and Julia decides that she isn’t going to return to Paris but remain in Berlin with Thomas. But Julia’s father puts an end to her idealistic and romantic dreams by coming to Berlin and literally dragging his daughter back to New York, an incident that completely changes the trajectory of her life, an incident that she never forgave her father for. Her father Anthony, realizing all the years he missed with her, tries to make it up to her by convincing her to spend six days with him, to hash out all the things that were never said between them before his death - and the dynamic between father and daughter isn’t lighthearted reading.
Each of them learn a hell of a lot about one another, reveal their unspoken resentments, clear the air of major misunderstandings. Unknown to Julia, her father is still the puppet master pulling the strings of her life in a desperate attempt to allow her to see that she must live the life that she wants to live and not the life that she thinks she is supposed to live. The reader can see what is coming a mile away but that still doesn’t take away from the suspense element of this intriguing story. Despite the moments of high cliche and “just on this side” of Nicholas Sparks type romance, the writing is simple, direct, and sometimes very emotional and anyone who has lost a loved one will think about having that extra chance to say those “things that were never said”, to make clear once and for all how they truly felt about them.
In the end, I wound up enjoying this story very much even though part of the way through I didn’t think I was going to make it. Remember, this is not “serious literature” but the subject matter is serious enough that you will ponder the questions the book does raise and I’m not afraid to admit that this is a story that will probably stick with me for a very long time.