A Visit from Voltaire, Dinah Lee Kung
For me, books aren't just about good stories or characters, though there's many an airport novel that could tick that box. No, for me, a good book provokes further learning. At the very least, it makes me want to reach for the dictionary and look up words I haven't come across before. There's quite a few of those, I can tell you, though none in airport novels! At best, it clicks the link for a whole new world I hadn't thought about before.
Our local village library isn't bulging with books. It certainly has enough to keep people going, but it's not at the cutting edge of the literary scene. More of a community centre, which suits us all fine. It's not every library that has a session on making your own hanging basket
So when we go book-hunting, it's an intuitive thing. That's how I came to pick up A Visit From Voltaire – a self-proclaimed comic novel about the unlikeliest of friends. It's set in the present and is about a late forty-something American mum moving with her Swiss-born husband and three children to a small Swiss village where, after a distinguished and active journalism career, she's doing what all ex-journalists want to do (and I know of which I speak) and that's to write a novel.
There's the culture clash, the language barriers, the sheer frustration of being a poisson out of water. And then there's Voltaire. Or V as we come to know him. He just turns up, not so much of a haunting more a gentle nagging. Visible only to Dinah – she uses her own name, his immense ego fills the pages with with his witticisms, verbal sparring and massive intellect. We learn about his life and times – and his insatiable appetite to continue his work long after his death. He even taps into the internet to lobby for human rights – and dabble in the markets.
Interspersed with what are clearly Dinah's own experiences as a journalist in the far east, the story is rich in character, dialogue and insight. Thank goodness, there's no heavy analysis of how ghosts can and can't interact. He drinks gallons of coffee, takes snuff and wears fresh, clean clothes every day.
This is a stimulating novel, rich, charming and warm. It made me want to know much more about V – and am I now about to order Voltaire's Candide from Amazon.