The Balcony

In exquisitely polished prose both elegant and prickly, Jane Delury's first novel chronicles a century of life in a manor house located in a small French town laid to waste by World War II bombs and by failed businesses. The Balcony is the story of those who come and go through the servant's cottage and mansion, from its original ambitious immigrant sawmill owner to transient tourists from the U.S. and U.K. Each self-contained but interrelated chapter illuminates their lives and families during a particular time between 1910 and 2009. Some are young, some old, some French, some expatriates, some of means, some penniless, some intellectual, some unlettered--but all troubled in a distinctive fashion. Sharing the once baronial setting, they can't help but rub up against its tainted history of secrets, suicide, abortion, madness and lust. Over the generations, they migrate to places like Grenoble, Madagascar, Brittany or Tahiti, but always return in person or memory to the estate and its ill-fated balcony.

With a maîtrise from the University of Grenoble, PEN/O. Henry Prize-winning Delury freely scatters her narrative with untranslated French and historical references as if creating an immersion semester abroad. She subtly captures the flavor of both France's aged ("her décolleté was cracked like the varnish of her husband's desk, and her chin wanted to meet her neck") and its hipster young "who self-published chapbooks of Oulipo poetry... held Ping-Pong tournaments, played the accordion ironically, and wore T-shirts with quotes by Samuel Beckett." Not just an extraordinary first novel, The Balcony is the accomplished work of a writer already at ease with a rich combination of language, character and consummate storytelling. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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