Monday, 9 February 2015

Book review: All This Has Nothing to do With Me by Monica Sabolo

If we've not been there ourselves, we've certainly had a friend be that person - the woman who analyses every word, every action, every glance that their current crush indulges in.

But seeing that kind of detail written down on the page, like it is in French author Monica Sabolo's All This Has Nothing to do With Me, makes that behaviour look a bit obsessive, and irrational at times.

In Sabolo's semi-autobiographical book we follow the relationship between MS, a journalist at a French magazine, and her new colleague XX, from its start to its painful end. Sabolo's book is not a straight narrative, it's interspersed with images, extracts from diaries and emails, and is told in three acts - the present, the past, and then back to the present again.

We meet MS as she meets XX, and finds him utterly gorgeous. What follows is her account of the pair's interactions - complete with photographs of all the lighters she has stolen from him, and notes about how many times they touch when they go out for after-work drinks. It's clear from the beginning that MS is way more into XX than he is into her, and her obsessive behaviour is cringe-worthy. I spent the first act laughing, feeling replacement embarrassment for MS, and thinking that I was reading an account of a 14-year-old girl's crush on a schoolboy.

And then the second act happened, and we're taken into the past to learn about MS as a child and young woman. What we learn there made me completely look at the third act, when we're back in the present and seeing the aftermath of MS's broken relationship, with a very different viewpoint. The pain of MS's past makes her behaviour in the present understandable, and also tinged with sadness. The novel is still funny, but it also reveals its darker edge in that second act.

All This Has Nothing to do With Me is an addictive novel - I read it in one wide-eyed sitting. My eyes were made wider by the fact that this is, as mentioned earlier, based on Sabolo's own life. I believe in real life she had a similar crush on a male colleague, which manifested itself in behaviours like those described in the book.

Sabolo's book, translated from the original French by Georgina Collins, is very Parisian in feel - kind of wry, witty, very understated despite the over-the-top behaviour it describes. It's a book that will make you laugh, cringe, and gasp. And, however incredulous you are after reading it, you'll also realise that MS is not so far removed from reality.

*All This Has Nothing to do With Me is out in the UK on April 9 2015.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Picador. This did not affect my review.

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