‘Enjoyable, but didn’t quite sustain its opening promise’ – And Then Came Paulette by Barbara Constantine

atcpbcAnd Then Came Paulette was published two years ago in  France, but is now published in English, so readers this side of La Manche can  share its Gallic charm.

Ferdinand is a widower rattling around a large farm  house, missing the visits of his grandchildren. Their mother is seeking to  lessen his involvement in their lives as she thinks he swears too much: they of  course delight in the forbidden expletives.

Ferdinand saves his neighbor, Marceline’s, life from gas  poisoning, having been led to her still body by her dog. He realizes that they  have been existing in one room under a very leaky roof  and this asserts its own logic, as he has  copious drip-free space to spare. Ferdinand welcomes her, the dog and the rest  of her menagerie, including Cornelius the lock picking donkey, to his farm. 

Marceline is but the first of the series of human waifs  and strays that Ferdinand invites to live in the farmhouse, bringing it and each  other back to life. A recent widower is followed by aged senile sisters, before  members of a more youthful generation join the community. As the lonely  farmhouse becomes a home again, the grandsons are increasingly frequent  visitors, adding fresh connections to these hitherto fairly isolated peoples’  lives. The eponymous Paulette is the surprising final new joiner of the group.  Each was, in their way, impoverished; but in the farmhouse, and in each other,  they find useful roles for themselves in making life better for each other with  the gifts and skills they can offer.

At its best, Barbara Constantine gives the situations in  her created world a wonderfully kaleidoscopic vividness through rapid  juxtaposition of different character viewpoints (and the animals, as part of  this community, have their tales told too). The opening chapters have a  wonderful life of comic misunderstanding, and a quirky charm somewhat  reminiscent of the film Amelie. This falls away rather as the book progresses  and becomes a narrative that also doesn’t provide deeper insights into the  characters.

Any Cop?: And Then Came Paulette is enjoyable, but didn’t quite sustain its  opening promise.

Kat Watts


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