The following piece will be a discussion on the novel The Suicide Shop by French author Jean Teulé. With a title like that, there will be references to self-harm and suicide. We’ll also briefly go over the plot of the novel, so there will be spoilers. Reader discretion advised.
Worst of Times
Most post-apocalyptic stories show one person’s struggle to overcome a brutal environment destroyed by humanity. Robots, aliens, and/or zombies are out there, and it’s up to Bruce Ex Machina to do…something. Survive, I suppose. The people of Teulé’s world, however, don’t seem too keen on the idea. Instead, they pay a visit to the titular shop. As the tagline states: “has your life been a failure? Let’s make your death a success!”
The staff, Mishima and Lucrece Tuvache and their children, are appropriately morose, willing to help any new customer. Well, one in his own separate way. The story opens with newborn Alan, the youngest son, smiling at a customer as she leaves. When the customer points it out to the boy’s parents, Lucrece denounces it, saying no Tuvache has ever smiled. “There’s something not quite right with that one,” she says to her daughter, Marylin. After all, how could anyone be happy in their world?
What follows is a series of jumps to various points in the family’s life, always focused around Alan. As time passes, and much to his family’s chagrin, Alan grows older and manages to spread joy beyond the store. Dulling razors, loosening ropes, swapping out poisoned chocolates, Alan is committed to usurping business. He even gets through to his family, with his sister getting married and brother smiling and cooking. By the end of the story, the macabre shop is transformed into a restaurant, with the family selling food and hosting a party. Formerly despondent customers are laughing and dancing, and people are happy for the first time in forever. The Tuvache family is full of the joy of life.
And, having finished his mission, Alan steps off a roof. The book ends.
Laugh until it Hurts
A friend of mine recommended this black comedy to me, and I was delighted to read it after the first couple chapters. The idea of a small ray of irritating sunshine in a gloomy world is a silly thing to picture. Alan’s exploits and relentless positivity turn life in the shop into a bizarre sitcom as he scampers (scampers!!) around, smiling and spreading irritating joy. As each scene unfolds, we notice the effect he has on individual people. As he gets older, we see how he develops new ways to inception people with happiness. Something as simple as complimenting his mother’s cooking gets brother Vincent eating for the first time in a while. Swapping out a toxin with a placebo brings sister Marylin and her future husband together. It made me chuckle and gave me a case of the warm fuzzies.
And then the ending happened. Talk about emotional whiplash.
It’s an interesting showcase of the effects of happiness, but the final line makes you stop and wonder. Now that Alan has managed to spread joy, why end it? What will happen to the rest of the family? Will they manage to keep the joy of life in them? And we will never know.
Closing the Curtain
Teulé’s work is a philosophical comedy that keeps the reader wondering long after setting it down. While there may not be many laughing outbursts, a reader may chuckle at the eerie silliness in the daily life of this small shop. It’s a quick and enjoyable read that might just linger with you after you finish. If you’d prefer, there is also a film based on the novel, but as they say: the movie’s never as good as the original. Definitely worth a read.
Have you read The Suicide Shop? Do you want to watch the film? Anything you’d like to recommend that’s a little off the beaten track? Talk to me in the comments, I need more books!
It’s good to be back. Cheers!