Leon and Louise By Alex Capus

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Léon and Louise
262 pages; Haus Publishing
When "a small grey figure wearing a bright red foulard" disrupts the funeral for respected Parisian civil servant Léon Le Gall—father of three, grandfather of 12, great-grandfather of four—at the venerable Notre Dame Cathedral, a family secret unravels. Seventy-four years prior, in the spring of 1918, while cycling to his new job in the village of Deauville, Léon had spontaneously raced a gap-toothed girl on a rusty, squeaky bike. Despite her damaged equipment, the girl in question, a certain young Louise Janvier, soundly beat him. Thus began a bewitchment—and an unrequited, lifelong love story. A near-fatal explosion during World War I separated the two, and years passed until they found one another again, only to be separated by World War II, not to mention spouses, children and assorted other complications, including one with a delicate box of tartes aux fraises. Interestingly enough, it's not the anxiety of how these two will ever be reunited—you somehow just know they will—but the eccentric charm of the novel itself that keeps you tearing through the pages. Capus' light, playful touch makes everything feel as if touched by an invisible French-speaking Mary Poppins, whether he's poking fun at a busybody landlord eating calf liver with onion or spinning up a description of Louise's polka-dot blouse. What results is a winsome bonbon of a novel in which "The End" feels like an unexpected and unfairly realistic awakening.
— Leigh Newman