Business is brisk at The Suicide Shop. Run by the Tuvache family, the shop offers a variety of ways to end it all, with something to fit every budget.
The Tuvaches go mournfully about their business until the youngest member of the family threatens to destroy their contented misery by confronting them with something they’ve never encountered before: a love of life.
Le Magasin des Suicides, by Jean Teulé 8.0
‘Le Magasin des Suicides’ is a French novella about the grimmest of all family businesses: a suicide supplies shop. In this macabre boutique, one can find every possible way to end one’s life, from the mundane to the exotic. Rest assured that, in this alternate reality, this is a very popular enterprise. Too bad the there isn’t much return clientèle.
But there is terrific word of mouth: the Tuvache family take pride in their work, and go to great lengths in order to acquire, test, and recommend their products. They are so knowledgeable that they can easily advise their prospective customers on the best method to suit their needs and circumstances. They’re professionals.
They’re extremely devoted to their work. Ms. Tuvache, in particular, sees it as a calling, as a sort of service to society. Although the whole family is miserable, she forbids the children from using the products themselves, telling them that, without the Tuvache family, their customers would have no one to turn to in their moment of need.
But there is trouble brewing in their contented, if spiritually moribund, existence.
The youngest, Alan, is the
black white sheep of the family: he is implacably optimistic about everything. While the Tuvaches are diligently busy with the worst that life has to offer, he sees even the worst possible turn of events through rose-tinted glasses, gayfully singing delightful little tunes. Basically, he is insufferable.
However, happiness can be infectious. And, although the whole family is irritated with his incessant jubilation, and his parents decry the day that they conceived him, his interferences in household affairs eventually begin to have influence. It isn’t long before the work of ten generations of suicide vendors starts to unravel…
I devoured this book when I first got started. It was a riot. I loved the black (bleak?) humour and all the twisted elements that were thrown into it. Teulé was obviously having a lot of fun playing up the ironic side of his story. But it lost its steam when Alan starting having too much influence on the family and their business.
My problem is that both parents could barely stand the little one but, for reasons unexplained, they remained attached to him enough that they allowed him to test their patience, if not their (in)sanity. Seems to me that it would have been easy to send him to a boarding school, or even have him adopted, so that they could be rid of him.
And even more so when he surreptitiously started to jeopardize their livelihood!
When he started to toss away the killer candy, cut at the nooses, or replace the poisoned apples, his parents panicked, thinking that they’d be ruined. But did they do anything about it? Not only didn’t they stop/prevent him, they actually left him in positions where he could inflict the most damage – knowing full well that he had done it before.
Frankly, I wondered why they didn’t kill him off. Or, at the very least, chain him in the basement.
As insane as these people are to us, in such a story you simply have to accept that their insanity comes from their own brand of logic. The problem is that when that logic falters or comes into question, when they don’t even play by their own rules, whatever that is, the story no longer holds up. Thus, I became more disinterested as the book carried on.
‘La Magasin des Suicides’ remains entertaining to the end. Make no mistake. But the distinct morbid quality that made it so engaging at the onset was cleansed by a farcical life-affirming message that didn’t gel as well as Teulé might have hoped. The result was as though watching The Addams Family get processed by the Disney hit factory.
The thought alone makes me want to visit the Tuvaches’ shop.