I’m going to be honest here – I quite like a bit of Euro-pop. I enjoy watching Eurovision (well, I like the actual songs, but the voting can get a bit annoying), know just about all the Abba songs and used to do the whole dance thing for Whigfield’s Saturday Night. I like some of the cooler stuff too – I was listening to Björk when she was still with the Sugarcubes and, thanks to my brother, am pretty familiar with the work of Manu Chao. When it comes down to it, in terms of pure pop, Europe is just plain more cool than the UK. We do cheese: they do ‘fromage'(which I always think sounds much hipper…)
When I reviewed Antoine Laurain’s previous book I was struck by its charm, subtle romance and all-round general gallic air. I enjoyed it so much that I snapped up the chance to read French Rhapsody, which is where my appreciation of continental pop comes in. Because the heart of this story is Alain Massoulier, a doctor in his 50s, and the band he was a part of in the 1980s. When Alain receives a letter which has been sent over 30 years earlier – offering the band, the Holograms, a recording contract with a major label – he decides to track down the rest. Stan, the drummer, has become a well-known contemporary artist, the keyboard player runs a resort in Thailand, the bass-player is a scarily popular right-wing politician and the singer has returned home to her parent’s hotel near Dijon. The song-writer Pierre died (in a rather dramatic fashion in the window of his antiques store) and his brother, the band’s producer, has become a business guru.
This is another charming story with subtle depths. As well as exploring the lives of the band members we get to consider what they might have been if they had travelled down the trouser leg of reality in which they were pop stars. In the end though we have to focus on life as it actually is rather than might-have-beens. Alain ends the book as a wiser, but possibly a sadder, man: we end the book contemplating whether we’d rather live in a world with 1980s French cold wave music or with 21st century politics. (Clue: as I said, I love a bit of euro-pop…)