Jan 11, 2015

The Alley Cat

by Yves Beauchemin

Florent has a dull job as salesman for a record company in Quebec. He's always wanted to own a restaurant. One day an act of kindness to a stranger on the street attracts the attention of an elderly wealthy man, who puts him on the path to buy a local restaurant. Florent is thrilled but baffled at his benefactor's intentions. As the restaurant changes hands and Florent with his young wife and several friends work to get things running smoothly, strange incidents begin to occur. Several of which threaten to ruin their budding restaurant business. Eventually it throws them into poverty, and Florent must search out other means to make a living. He tries his hand at various business ventures, but every time the old man crops up again, seems to have his hands behind everything. It gets very convoluted and distressing. Florent starts finding connections between all kinds of disparate people in his life, and just when things start to look up again and they think the strange benefactor has disappeared, the creepy old man shows up yet again. Eventually Florent does manage to establish his own restaurant again, and his conflict with the old man reaches a drastic conclusion.

There are all sorts of interesting things going on- descriptions of the restaurant business, antiques dealing, overseeing a building restoration, and even a venture which never becomes actualized but sounded interesting- making beauty products with grapefruit leaves. By far the most interesting character is a beastly little boy whose mother practically ignores him- he's discovered alcohol and buys or steals it whenever he can, dragging around his pet alley cat. He behaves hideously, but firmly attaches himself to Florent and his little family, somehow winning their affections and getting himself mixed up in all kinds of stuff. I was also intrigued by a character who was pretty much disparaged or pitied by all the others- a priest who had a passion for books, neglecting his duties and boring everyone with his quotations- it was obvious that reading was considered by the others an irresponsibly escapist pastime! Also the constant raging of a certain chef against American concoctions that he claimed were ruining culinary interests all over the world amused me.

This is a strange book. I almost put it down several times, but the story kept taking interesting turns, even though I couldn't always follow the intrigue. As events progressed it got more laughs out of me, and a lot of puzzlement as well. It's one of those books I might read again, just to see if I can figure it all out. The more I think about it, the more I actually like it.

The Alley Cat was originally published in French, it's been translated to English by Sheila Fischman.

Rating: 3/5         450 pages, 1981


bermudaonion said...

This sounds kind of odd, but interesting to me.

Jeane said...

It is very odd! Especially the character of the old man- he seemed something out of a fairy tale.

carol said...

Odd. I like restaurant books, but this one doesn't sound like one I'll pick up.