Wednesday 24 July 2019

All Happy Families: A Memoir by Herve Le Tellier

All Happy Families wasn't the memoir I was hoping it would be. Le Tellier is upfront from the beginning, letting us know that he doesn't feel love for his parents. I was therefore expecting a heartfelt exploration into all the whys and wherefores of his troubled childhood. Instead, we simply got a recital of the family tree with some anecdotes about things that were said and done.

Don't get me wrong, Herve's family was pretty ghastly. His mother would now be diagnosed with a pretty major personality disorder and his step father with codependency. His biological father obviously spent the rest of his just being grateful that he got out. Herve had lots of very good reasons to distance himself from the family of his birth as soon as he could, but the problem was, he also kept us, the reader, at a distance.

Memoirs, these days, are expected to provide various psychological insights as well as catharsis for the author. One of the very best that I've read in recent times is, Nadja Spiegleman's I'm Supposed to Protect You From All This. Le Tellier's book has obviously been cathartic for him, but I didn't feel like I got to know him at all. His lack of curiosity about why his mother and other family members acted the way they did was, well, curious. This complete detachment was no doubt his survival technique, but I wanted him to draw this bow too and show us how he had embraced his life away from the parental home. How does one go on to develop empathy, caring kindness and healthy relationships when one has a childhood lacking in all of the above?

Le Tellier does state at the end that he doesn't 'know what it might mean to anyone other than me. But by putting into words to my story, I've understood that sometimes a child's only choice is to escape.'

I guess what I was hoping for was some insights into the lingering after effects of such an upbringing (there are always lingering after effects). The decisive breaks away from his childhood experience as well as the personal realisations that he must have made throughout his adult life would have been fascinating to read. Perhaps this is just the first step for Le Tellier in this process or maybe he's simply not as introspective as I am!

I also chose to read this book now thanks to Paris in July. Casual mentions of some antique furniture and a country house with references to French history and pop culture were interesting, but the place of origin was ultimately less significant than the family of origin.

Favourite or Forget: Knowing a less extreme version of Le Tellier's mother, made this book interesting, with my own personal insights coming from Le Tellier's example.

  • Translated in 2019 by Adriana Hunter a British translator of over 60 French novels.
Book 13 of 20 Books of Summer Winter
Sydney 24℃
Dublin 20℃


  1. Excellent review. I am sure I would have felt like you, since I am that curious and love introspection.
    Maybe he's too affected or didn't want to or could not go there yet.

    1. It had that feel Silvia, of someone still new to working through their childhood stuff. I think he had pushed it all away at such an early age to protect himself and has kept it there, rather than dealing with it.

      It was only after the death of his two fathers and his mother being diagnosed with dementia in recent times, that he has spoken out.

      "They won't read this book, and I felt I finally had the right to write it" which suggests to me, that his mother's influence has had a very long shadow indeed.

    2. Wow, lots of pain and denial on his parents side.
      It's an author to keep an eye on, he may write more and get deeper in the future,

  2. You make me curious: how did you even happen to buy (or acquire) this book? And what made you expect it to be different from what you found?

    I had not heard of Herve Le Tellier, but just googled him and saw a list of his other books, which appear to have been successful, so I guess I should have heard of him. I've definitely heard of Oulipo, which he belongs to, but your review doesn't indicate anything about that. Good review (even if you didn't like the book).

    best... mae at

    1. The book came my way thanks to my work (in an Indy Bookshop) and the back blurb uses words like 'moving', 'complex', 'delicate and nuanced'. I love a good memoir where the author really works through the issues and I thought that's what I was getting. But it was a little more basic than that, which is fine, but not what I was expecting.

      I had never heard of Le Tellier either, or his other works, or Oulipo, which is why I didn't mention it. I didn't know it was worth mentioning! What does it mean to you?

    2. The other thing that attracted me Mae, was the title. I liked the nod to Tolstoy.

  3. I have this one (it was sent to me). I tried a few pages but just couldn't get into it. Perhaps I'lll try one more time.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Pass.

  5. I love the conversation here in the comments... why do you have this book? I would feel like you too - perhaps disappointed. and I think I agreed with Deb Nance - might pass on it myself.


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