Today we have the pleasure of a Q&A with David Foenkinos, author of the novel Delicacy, the film adaptation of which, starring Audrey Tatou, is now out in limited release. Read on and watch the trailer below!
Reminiscent of novels by Nick Hornby, Muriel Barbery, and Jonathan Tropper, internationally acclaimed novelist David Foenkinos delivers a heartfelt and deftly comedic tale of new love brightening the dark aftermath of loss—and of wounded hearts finding refuge in the strangest of places. After her husband’s unexpected death, Natalie has erected a fortress around her emotions—and Markus, clumsy and unassuming, will never be her knight in shining armor. Yet slowly but surely, an offbeat romance begins between these two mismatched, complex souls, and contrary to everything Natalie knows of affection, her perfect suitor may turn out to be love’s most unlikely candidate—the fool, not the hero, who is finally able to reach her heart.
Q: One of the most interesting things about DELICACY is the way it shows an extremely unlikely couple coming together in a way that’s totally believable. What do you think Natalie’s change of heart about Markus says about attraction?
DF: It was the hardest thing to convey….especially on film! The story has been compared to Beauty and the Beast. That story can seem really strange if you’re not Markus or Natalie. It’s their story, and prejudice has to be swept aside! What makes this love story believable is that from the very first moment she meets Markus, Natalie needs everything that makes him who he is: sweetness, kindness, and humor.
Q: Are Natalie and Markus based on anyone you know, or are they mainly products of your imagination?
DF: Yes, they’re imagined, not autobiographical. But there is a lot of me in them. I’m very much a Markus! But also a Natalie. I don’t believe it’s possible to write without drawing on your feminine side. That said, I end up creating characters who aren’t real but whom I’d love to meet. I want to meet Natalie.…Thanks to Audrey Tautou, I kind of have!
Q: A lot of chapters contain what seem to be random asides to the story, addressing things like John Lennon’s unfulfilled discography and the astrological signs of supporting characters. Oddly enough, though, they all seem to fit perfectly with what’s going on. How do these chapters function in the narrative? Were they always going to be part of the novel, or did you decide to add them later on in the process?
DF: This book is a simple story, but sprinkled with lots of stuff, fantasies. Just like our modernity itself. We have information everywhere. We’re constantly surfing. But everything, or almost everything, the reader learns along the way is relevant to the novel. When the characters have an aspargus risotto, two pages later is the recipe. Who knows, that could be why the book has been such a huge success in France. Perhaps people are buying it for the recipes! All the stuff I included came as part of the storytelling, none added on afterwards. It had to be integral to the story. I love that reading this book can also make you want to hear a song by Alain Souchon, or read Cortazar, eat some Swedish Krisprolls! I like books that don’t lock the reader in, but open many possible paths of discovery after the reading.
Q: What do you think the story says about how grieving redefines a person’s ideas about love?
DF: It’s completely true. You love differently depending on what’s going on in your life. Natalie wouldn’t have given Markus a second look a few years earlier. When two people meet, the timing is everything. It’s essential. I say in the book that there are wonderful people you meet at the wrong moment in your life, and there are people who are wonderful just because you meet them at the right moment. Markus comes along at just the right moment and all the better for him!
Q: If you had to pinpoint one thing Markus does right while courting Natalie, what would it be?
I’d say it’s his humor. Natalie is always caught off-guard by a man who’s funny. It’s such a beautiful trait. Markus makes fun of his country. When she asks him, « Why did you leave Sweden ? » he replies that the real question is to know why there are still Swedes who stay in Sweden ! It’s laughter that reconnects Natalie to life.
Q: Was it difficult to adapt your novel to film? On the one hand, it must have been wonderful to have Audrey Tautou sign on to play Natalie after you name-checked her in the book. On the other hand, there are so many wonderful lines in the book – when Charles thinks that Natalie’s femininity “had migrated from Switzerland to Russia”, for example, or when you describe Markus and Natalie’s kiss as “like modern art” – that must have been impossible to convey on screen.
DF: You can’t copy-paste, that’s for sure. And many phrases of course don’t make it into the film. The key is to stay true to the emotion, the tone. Many readers in France felt the film truly respected the book, and that was a relief. But making a film is what my brother and I wanted to do. So, I added several scenes and situations, even a new character : Natalie’s best friend is not in the book. And it’s magical to have Audrey Tatou. What luck! She does one film a year and gets hundreds of offers. She hadn’t done a first film for the last ten years. She said yes because she loved the story. You could say it’s the French version of the American dream.
Q: Do you have a favorite chapter or footnote?
I really like when Markus is afraid of happiness. He’s afraid to fall in love. He turns his head not to look at her anymore. I’m moved when he does that. I completely understand how you can be afraid of being in love, since it can create real suffering down the road. You often want to protect yourself…and then, in the end, you tell yourself you have to go for it. You have to follow your heart, without trying to economize on potential pain.
Q: Delicacy manages to balance tragedy, comedy and romance in equal measures – and in a very slender novel. How important was it to you to keep your writing streamlined? Do you think the sparseness of the language gives the emotions a greater stage?
DF: I do. It’s very important not to fall into sentimentality. The same holds for the film. We wanted to give the tragedy its due, and for life to rekindle soon after. For me, humor is the best way to express everything, from anguish to love. It makes things bubbly, sometimes absurd. And the sparseness brings out the emotions.
Q: Delicacy has been an enormous success in France – both in terms of sales and critical acclaim. What has most surprised you about readers’ reactions? What about critics?
DF: It’s completely wild. The book has exceeded a million copies. I see people reading it all the time on the subway, which makes me feel like I’m hallucinating. I get lots of letters and emails and Facebook messages. Though humor is so important in the book, people mostly talk to me about the serious things. I get letters from women who tell me they’ve lost their husband and dream of meeting a Markus ! As for the critics, my previous books got very good reviews and were translated in several countries. Beyond the critics, though, it’s the comments I’ve received from other writers that have affected me the most. And most of all from my idol, Milan Kundera, who made a series of drawings to congratulate me on La délicatesse. It was one of the most beautiful days of my life.