The Wide World by Pierre Lemaitre, trans. Frank Wynne

This is the first book in a quartet that tells the story of the Pelletier family in 1948 who live in Beirut. The youngest son, Etienne, travels to Saigon following a love who is a legionnaire and stumbles on fradulent use of the exchange of money which means that France who is at war with the Viet Minh is financing their weapons. Etienne is eventually killed and what we see is that behind war, there is often a tussle over money and betrayal.

Etienne’s sister and two brothers end up in Paris, having managed to escape their parents and struggle to find their place. Francois becomes a journalist and Jean stays the hen-pecked husband that he is but eventually manages to make money.

Family secrets are strong. Everybody has something to hide and some of the behaviours are quite disturbing for such a gentle, straightforward telling of the story with humour in places. Everyone is guilty of something and yet no one is punished apart from Etienne, and he was the one who was trying to expose a crime rather than hide it. I suppose they might all get their come uppance in books 2 – 4 but at the end of this one they are all free of any punishment although their mother and father’s secrets have caught up with them.

The characters are very well written, but on the whole not ones that you might like. We are drawn into their worlds and understand their fears and guilt as each plays their part in the story. The story gathered pace as you move through it until about 3/4 of the way and then it takes off with most of the revelations happening in the final quarter of the 503 pages. It is a story of greed, revenge, secrets and murder and there is a lot of murder. I look forward to the next volume in The Glorious Years quartet.

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