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“The Ambition of Madame LaFargue” by Henri Duval is a witty and sardonic view of small town politics. Set in the fictional French village of Firmin-sur-Roche, this novel depicts the role of local government and the pressure to meet the demands of a trying (and sometimes zany) populace.
The plot is centered around the election for “Le Maire”. In the first contested race in years, incumbent Ambrose Abelard meets his match in the title usurper Celestine LaFargue. Celestine’s attempted rise to power and Ambrose’s struggle to keep it prove that they can’t please everybody. That doesn’t stop them from trying, however, with disastrous, yet often hilarious results. From the mishandling of ancient artifacts to hiding a stolen pig in a bathtub, the plot is full of antics that leave both the players and readers alike, wondering “Is this really worth it?”
Although the plot revolves around Ambrose and Celestine’s campaign, the cast of characters is truly an ensemble. No one character steals the spotlight. Each villager has their own wish list, which leave Ambrose and Celestine scrambling to appease them. Ethics and morality quickly go out the window as the race is on to garner as many votes as possible, with countless input and commentary from the sidelines.
This story is a satisfactory read and an enjoyable experience, but is not without it’s faults. The dialogue often falls flat and seems overly-simplistic at times. However, the use of French phrases throughout (which even a reader who doesn’t know a word of French will be able to decipher in context) does add flavor and culture. However, the predictable and somewhat anti-climactic ending is a stark disappointment in an otherwise engaging and funny tale.
At it’s core, this book is about the bad and misguided decisions that even the most well-intentioned of public servants will make to stay in control. The desire to rally for the greater good can quickly transform into a personal quest to not be outdone. “The Ambition of Madame LaFargue” provides an insightful and comedic look at small town life and the seemingly insignificant trials and tribulations that plague both the residents and those elected to serve them. I rate this book 3 out out 4 stars.
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