I was about to use the term ‘picaresque’ to describe these books but when I looked up the meaning just to be sure, it was defined as roguish or, at the very least, impish. I thought it meant a narrative which describes incidents in someone’s life rather than a story with a plot. Jean, the protagonist in these novels, is not roguish, though one of the main characters definitely is. Notwithstanding all that, I found the first novel, The Foundling Boy, captivating. It meanders its way from his being left on a doorstep in a small French village, through adolescence and first loves. Some of these meanders are lengthy, as, for example, the travels and amours of Antoine, Jean’s benefactor, but they don’t detract from a story which is in no hurry.
The Foundling’s War, on the other hand, I found less engaging. I had no trouble reading its 460 pages but I had to suspend my disbelief more often. The exploits of Palfry, the aforementioned roguish character, become more and more unlikely as he cosies up to the German occupiers but escapes at the end with his fortune intact. It’s also hard, at times, to keep track of the myriad characters as they impinge on Jean’s life, only to reappear later. So, worth a read if you have enjoyed the first and want to find out what happens next – you certainly can’t predict what will happen, which is always a good sign.