Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
With a penchant for excitement, action and change, mingled with kindness and goodwill, Napoleon Sunshine crams more incidents into this last stage of his life than many in their lifetime. He is determined to make the most of every minute.
He astounds his family by suddenly announcing he is divorcing his wife in spite of having lived happily together for decades.
He does not explain his bombshell, but declares that there are experiences he must pursue. Abandoning his usual routine, he begins to explore his future at a frantic pace.
So his saga begins.
There is much to amuse in this light-hearted romp through the challenges of old age, while Napoleon cheerfully ignores the limitations of his 85 years.
His antics are related by his devoted grandson, Leonard. He is Napoleon’s ally, determined to shield his grandfather from the repercussions of the forthright and often insensitive treatment of his long- suffering son, Leonard’s father. Leonard regards his grandfather in a rather loving awe. Napoleon’s escapades probably fulfil his longing to live a more thrilling life!
The narrative charges along, and Napoleon tackles everything with zest and enthusiasm: from his decision to divorce his wife, Josephine (of course!) to downing a group of young hoodlums. He wallpapers his house, plans the kidnapping of a game show host – the list is long and varied.
There is a not-so-subtle hint that the old man has a terminal illness. He buys a rescue dog which he names Endov, a shortened version of end of life!
However, he is a man of 85 years. It is likely that he realises death for him could not be very far away.
Translated from the French, this is a charming and heart- warming tale. Besides the immediate family, there are other amusing characters. Edouard, is Josephine’s unflappable suitor who is obsessed by all things Japanese. He wears Japanese otter hat and yak shoes! He inflicts Noh plays on the sweet- natured Josephine and introduces her to Go. No Scrabble for him!
Leonard’s school friend, Alexandre, is slightly mysterious and wears an unusual hat. He has surprising skills, winning all Leonard’s prized marble collection.
Irene, the nurse, finds Napoleon more challenging than she imagined. She thought she was well equipped to deal with people old and frail…. She possesses a formidable record, never finding any client impossible to care for, and is a martial arts expert – just in case!
The narrative slows when Napoleon, in a fit of enthusiasm, dances and is injured. He is hospitalised and more outrageous behaviour ensues.
His last adventures also touch on aged care and the limitations of old age: but highlights the value of family loyalty and support. This is done in a clever way. The author, Pascal Ruter, uses humour to suggest this. The hero’s progress is sympathetically and gently related which makes his message more poignant. It is a man’s desperate attempt to live life to the fullest. As a retired boxer, he would have spent most of his time focused on training and his matches. Perhaps his need to balance this, spurred him on his mission to do things he’d omitted to do in the past.
Pascal Ruter has written several children’s books. This is his second adult novel. It is written in the voice of Leonard, a child, and is convincing. He adores his Grandfather, and the tone is consistently admiring of his antics which adults find exasperating at times. He is the witness to the experiences Napoleon is chasing and is quite enthralled. At no stage does he discourage his grandfather, or caution him.
Napoleon Sunshine’s lively saga is not a great work of literature. It is hilarious and entertaining, with a serious vein lending substance to what might have been an indulgence on the writer’s part. However, it could be the inspiration for a script for a movie – a farce in that inimitable French style.
It was a really enjoyable read, and is a welcome change from the avalanche of crime and thriller offerings currently available.
The Last Adventure of Napoleon Sunshine
by Pascal Ruter translated from the French by Simon Pare
263 pages; $29.99