A witty, heartfelt novel that brilliantly evokes the confusions of adolescence and marks the arrival of an extraordinary young talent.
Isidore Mazal is eleven years old, the youngest of six siblings living in a small French town. He doesn't quite fit in. Berenice, Aurore, and Leonard are on track to have doctorates by age twenty-four. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, older than Isidore by eighteen months, expects a great career as a novelist—she's already put Isidore to work on her biography. The only time they leave their rooms is to gather on the old, stained couch and dissect prime-time television dramas in light of Aristotle's Poetics.
Isidore has never skipped a grade or written a dissertation. But he notices things the others don't, and asks questions they fear to ask. So when tragedy strikes the Mazal family, Isidore is the only one to recognize how everyone is struggling with their grief, and perhaps the only one who can help them—if he doesn't run away from home first.
Isidore’s unstinting empathy, combined with his simmering anger, makes for a complex character study, in which the elegiac and comedic build toward a heartbreaking conclusion. With How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas immerses readers in the interior life of a boy puzzled by adulthood and beginning to realize that the adults around him are just as lost.
Bordas's intriguing first novel in English (after two in French) consists of the personal narrative of Isidore (Dory) Mazal from age 11 to 14 as he struggles to understand his family, his hometown in France, and what little he sees of the world. Dory's quest for understanding is complicated by a tendency to take things literally, as well as by the limitations of his gifted but socially awkward older siblings: Leonard, relentlessly working on his sociology thesis; Jeremie, a talented cellist who refuses to play professionally; Berenice and Aurore, recently minted Ph.D.s adrift outside graduate school; and precocious high schooler Simone, already preparing her own biography. During summer beach vacations, each withdraws into his or her special interest; only Dory and his father go in the water. The father travels so much the rest of the year that his fatal heart attack barely interrupts family routine. To help his widowed mother through each night, Dory talks her to sleep or reads to her. He invites an internet contact to dinner as a possible suitor, but the siblings mock their guest. After multiple attempts to run away from home, Dory finds that the more he gets to know people, the less he understands. His German teacher, Herr Coffin, suggests that intellectual and emotional experience, in art at least, are mutually exclusive. Bordas's novel, with its humor and sadness, beauty and bluntness, youthful perspective and mature insight, proves otherwise.