The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart – Mathias Malzieu (translated by Sarah Ardizzone)
I was initially irresistably drawn to this book’s absolutely GORGEOUS cover art by Benjamin Lacombe…then I started reading the story. I’d like to say French musician/author Mathias Malzieu’s third book is amazing, but it is more – and less – than that.
Let me explain. Or, attempt to, at least.
The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a love story, but it’s not in the least bit pretty – it’s bitter and gloomy and it could have been played as a tragedy, except Malzieu chooses not to. The love-obsessed protagonist, Jack, is plagued with a heart defect, both literally and figuratively. His unhappy birth in Edinburgh in 1874 on the coldest night in the world nearly kills him, but his beloved mother figure, Dr. Madelaine, a midwife-cum-scientist, saves him by implanting a cuckoo-clock to function as his heart. From that time forward, he must “wind” himself up every morning, to keep his heart beating. While his clock’s physical workings get young Jack into all sorts of scrapes, his literal heart is given over to a beautiful myopic street singer, Miss Acacia, whom he pursues halfway across Europe. Aided in his travels by a fictionalized version of the world’s first cinematographic director, Georges Melies, Jack learns about the mysteries and follies of love and lust. Couched within Jack’s utter infatuation with Miss Acacia are the ideas of home and family and the sense of belonging, traditional themes that Malzieu invokes with sentimentality.
The most incredible thing about this book is the writing – I wish my French was good enough to explore what I’m sure are absolutely sumptuous nuances, but even in translation, I was absolutely enraptured with the way Malzieu uses metaphor. The book nearly oozes flowery prose – it actually might sicken some readers, but I tend to like that kind of thing every once in awhile. It’s like binging on good Belgian chocolate. (A steady diet would make me nauseous – there’s much to be said for clean, concise and PRECISE writing). The sheer poetry of the book made me want to savour it, and so I was saddened when it ended far, far too soon – and too tidily. Still, I’m delighted that I picked it up – it was beautiful and bizarre and if someone translates Malzieu’s other books (including the upcoming Metamorphose en Bord de Ciel), I will definitely give them a try. Oh…and a word to the wise: don’t be fooled by the whole “fairy tale” promo that accompanies The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. The many sexual references mean this book isn’t for children – it might not even be for some adults.
Apparently there may eventually be an animated film version of La Mecanique du Coeur…famed director Luc Besson may or may not have a hand in it.
The book La Mecanique du Coeur is based on the album of the same name by Malzieu’s band Dionysos. You can buy it on iTunes.
The book trailer for The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart can be found on You Tube at youtube.com/watch?v=5IuQRrPYzIw.