by David Foenkinos
Gallimard, 242 p, € 19.50
The original idea, which is truly delightful, is announced in a few lines at the start of the book. In 1999, hundreds of children are auditioned to find the young actor who will play Harry Potter, the hero of JK Rowling. “In the end, there were only two left. This novel tells the story of the one who was not chosen. “ Under the inventive pen of David Foenkinos, this unelected is Martin Hill, ten years old. English by his father, he grew up in London where he remained after the divorce of his parents, but from then on joined his mother in Paris every weekend, in “Back and forth between the emotions of his parents, from bitterness to hope, not always knowing very well where to be”.
Nothing predestines this boy who has not read the first two books of the Harry Potter adventures to become an actor – let alone to want to play him. “It is commonly said that chance does things well, which totally obscures the idea that it can do them just as badly”, writes David Foenkinos as an omniscient and mischievous writer. It will take two small twists of fate to place round glasses on Martin’s nose and put him in the presence of David Heyman, the producer of the films in search of his rare birdie.
In the first part, the novel fluidly interweaves the story of Martin and the legend that surrounds the Harry Potter saga, a formidable material from which David Foenkinos draws as he pleases, from the chaotic trajectory of Joanne Rowling to the choice of the initials “JK” for avoid that his novel is assimilated to “A book for girls”, from the reading of the manuscript by a producer even before its publication to the choice of a young actor, future interpreter of seven adaptations on the big screen, whose life will be forever turned upside down.
David Foenkinos turns a brilliant idea into a captivating novel that continues to run for two decades after a failure all the more poignant because it concerns a child. In the painful psyche of Martin, with the increasingly complicated family history, the planetary success of the literary and cinematographic saga constantly recalls the life that could have become his. Corn Number two doesn’t just talk about comparison and failure. With his humor tinged with melancholy, David Foenkinos questions the relative definition of success and explores the paths of slow reconstruction after a pile-up that should never have happened.