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Booker International Longlist 2020: Faces on the Tip of my Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano


And we’re off Book 1 done. Read and reviewed by returning panelists BookWorm & Tracy and new for 2020 RachelO. Did we all agree on this one?

Synopsis from the Booker Site: Meetings, partings, loves and losses in rural France are dissected with compassion.
The late wedding guest isn’t your cousin but a drunken chancer. The driver who gives you a lift isn’t going anywhere but off the road. Snow settles on your car in summer and the sequins found between the pages of a borrowed novel will make your fortune. Pagano’s stories weave together the mad, the mysterious and the dispossessed of a rural French community with honesty and humour. A superb, cumulative collection from a unique French voice.

Emmanuelle Pagano was born in Rodez, southern France, in 1969. Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and she has won multiple awards for her writing, including the EU Prize for Literature and the French Ecology Novel Prize. This is her second book to appear in English.


Sophie Lewis was born in London, UK, in October 1980. She is a writer, editor and translator from French and Portuguese. Her translations have been shortlisted for the Scott Moncrieff Prize and the Republic of Consciousness Prize. She lives in London.​
Jennifer Higgins was born in Chester, UK, in December 1978. She has translated numerous books from French and Italian. She runs translation workshops in schools, and has also written a book about English translations of French poetry. She lives in Abingdon.​

Book Worm’s Thoughts: When I saw this was a short story collection my heart fell (by now you must know how I feel about short stories) so I was delighted when this turned out to be the book that broke the curse.

The writing is beautiful, verging on poetic and the characters are vividly portrayed. I loved catching the references to the other stories in the collection when I spotted them (although I am sure I have definitely missed one). I like the way the author played with life and death turning our perception on its head. I also loved the local characters who found their way into legend.

The points are lower than I feel the book deserves because with short stories it is hard to develop character and plot. I was also disappointed to learn that the English translation is not a full translation of the book and now I am left wondering what gems I am missing.

Writing Quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 2/4
Plot Development: 2/4
Overall Enjoyment: 2/2
Total 15/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: I was taken with this collection of related short stories. Mostly because of the descriptions – I felt like I was on the mountain. The characters were developed as best they could be given the format. Few were given names, but the first person format helped to get in some of their heads.

I do wish that Peirene had published a full translation instead of a partial one – I think it would have been outstanding if this had happened. Partially due to this, and partially due to the short story format, a plot was difficult to discern.

Without giving away too much, this book was pretty dark with some disturbing moments- there is a story narrated by a hitchhiker that stands out to me, because of the after-shadowing, as does the story narrated by the driver of that car.

Well worth the read.

Writing Quality: 5/5
Originality: 2/5
Character Development: 2/4
Plot Development: 2/4
Overall Enjoyment: 1.5/2
Total 12.5:20

Rachel’s Thoughts: Perfectly titled. Short stories link together in a novel of unnamed characters you sort-of recognise but can’t always quite place. Set in rural France, we meet the people who live their lives on the winding mountain roads, who call this place home, even if they’re desperate to leave.

Initially, although I was loving the writing, I wasn’t too sure why this had made the list. But as you read on, you start to question who’s talking, whether you’ve heard their stories before, and the unique structure comes through. One of those rare books that, having reached the end makes you want to flip back to the beginning to see what you missed first time round.

Melancholy, disorientating and beautifully written – I really liked this one, but it’s not a plot-driven book, and you’re left with so many questions…

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 15/20

Faces on the Tip of my Tongue 14.17


One Comment Post a comment
  1. I wondered too at why only a partial translation, perhaps because they only publish novella length books? It’s really a different book with a different title. I therefore have the dilemma of whether I should read it in French instead. Interesting that it’s the break out book for you Book Worm, a favourite and a short story collection!


    March 22, 2020

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