Tuesday Paris Reading Rec: THE MISTRESS by Philippe Tapon

For today's Tuesday Paris reading rec, a book I reviewed for the New York Times more than a decade ago, but I've enjoyed seeing on my own shelves ever since. The Mistress is a much better title than The Gastroenterologist, though the latter is much more accurate. And I'm standing by the line, "''Gut-wrenching"  ... has never described a scene so well as it does a Nazi's gurgling death by the most exquisitely French means." Though this isn't really a mystery novel, if you're a fan of clever twists, you'll find a memorable one here.


Philippe Tapon’s second novel, ‘’The Mistress,’’ is full of life’s guiltier pleasures — terribly rich food, petty luxuries, illicit romance — but the book itself is the guiltiest pleasure of all, because although it is rife with raw evil, it is altogether enjoyable. Emile Bastien lives with his mistress in Nazi-occupied Paris while his wife subsists in convenient exile in southern France, where she is stranded with neither car nor money. Emile’s reputation as one of the city’s best gastroenterologists means locals and Nazis alike clamor for his services, whatever the cost. As a result, Emile endures the lean war years very comfortably, until everything — his affair, his family, his practice and the Nazi occupation — begins to unravel. Tapon adroitly uses a small cast of characters to render the duplicities and tenuous allegiances of wartime France on an uncomfortably intimate scale. Though the plot twists and slithers almost to the level of soap opera, Tapon evokes strong emotions without resorting to tanks or bombs, mining instead the tangled domesticity of his characters’ lives. Curiously, the mistress of the title comes off as vaguely underdrawn, but it may be because she’s surrounded by so much that’s overpowering. ‘’Gut-wrenching,’’ for example, has never described a scene so well as it does a Nazi’s gurgling death by the most exquisitely French means. Reading ‘’The Mistress’’ may feel like a guilty pleasure, but Tapon has nothing to be ashamed of: it’s a fine, wicked book.
— NYT Book Review, 1999