Home > 2010, 21st Century, Ferrari Jérôme, French Literature, Novel, TBR20 > The Sermon on the Fall of Rome by Jérôme Ferrari

The Sermon on the Fall of Rome by Jérôme Ferrari

The Sermon on the Fall of Rome by Jérôme Ferrari (2012) Original French title: Le Sermon sur la chute de Rome.

ferrari_chuteMatthieu Antonetti lives in Paris with his mother and visits her side of the family in a small village in Corsica for the holidays. Libero Pintus lives in this village. The two boys are the same age and become best friends. Matthieu would love to live in Corsica. After high school, they both start studying philosophy at the Sorbonne. When they learn that the café in their beloved Corsican village is for rent, they decide to drop out of university and run it. The Sermon on the Fall of Rome relates Matthieu’s family history, his personal story and his adventure with running the café with his best friend. Parallel to Matthieu’s story, we read about Matthieu’s grand-father’s life. Marcek worked in Africa in the French colonies. Telling Marcel’s life is a way to relate the fall of the French colonial empire.

Part of the novel is probably based upon Ferrari’s personal life. He comes from Corsica, he studied philosophy in La Sorbonne, he ran a philosophical café in Corsica and he was a teacher in Algier.

It is objectively a great idea for a book. And Matthieu’s story, the portrait of his family, the description of life in Corsica would have been a great novel. Something like Le Soleil des Scorta by Laurent Gaudé. Where a regular novelist would probably have limited themselves to telling a story, Ferrari had to brew a literary café with a philosophical flavor. The philosopher du jour is Saint Augustine. Perhaps Ferrari dreamt that Saint Augustine was alive as you or me and it gave him literary inspiration. Who knows?

ferrari_englishSo here we are with Saint Augustine who wrote Sermon on the fall of Rome. And…*nudge nudge and eye roll*…look at the book’s title! And, guess what, the titles of the chapters come from… The City of God by Saint Augustine! And the icing on the fiadone, the last chapter is the actual sermon. Yippee!

There’s probably a highbrow explanation as to how Saint Augustine’s point on the fall of the Roman empire has something to do with the rise and fall of a non-philosophical café in Corsica. I’m sure that literate readers see it right away, this brilliant analogy and all. At least, the jury of the Prix Goncourt did. The Sermon on the Fall of Rome won the prestigious prize in 2012.

But poor old common-reader me closed the book thinking “These highbrow French writers, they always have to intellectualize everything.” It feels as if writing a good novel that “just” tells a good story with well-drawn characters is not enough to take them to the pedestal of being un écrivain. Well, for me it’s enough.

You might wonder why I bought it. I had faith in the publisher, Actes Sud and the blurb led me to imagine that the title of the book was more a whim than actually referring to Saint Augustine that way. My mistake I guess.

Unsurprisingly given all the books in translation he reads, Stu from Winston’s Dad has read and reviewed it. You can find his much more positive review here.

PS: a fiadone is a classic Corsican cake.

  1. July 13, 2016 at 1:26 am

    LOL Emma, you are *not* a common reader!

    Like

    • July 15, 2016 at 10:33 am

      If you say so! -:)

      Like

  2. July 13, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Quite glad that I passed on the opportunity to read this novel at the time of its release as I suspect the tendency to intellectualise would have frustrated me as well. It’s a pity as the setting really appeals to me – Corsica is one of my favourite wine regions.

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    • July 15, 2016 at 10:33 am

      It was too much for my tastes..I’ve just read Rendez-vous in Venice and this one mixes art and literature masterfully.

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  3. July 13, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.

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  4. July 13, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    I wonder how I would like it . . . I’m really not sure.

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    • July 15, 2016 at 10:31 am

      Sous le soleil des Scorta is better. There are other books to read before this one, IMO.

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  5. July 13, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    The idea od the book is a good one as you pointed out, but the title would have put me off. It sounded a bit too grandiose for my taste.

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    • July 15, 2016 at 10:27 am

      I thought the title was a joke. Alas it wasn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pat
    July 14, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Hi Emma, I confess that I had to go back to my review to remember the story then read your review, it was not an easy read, but my review tells me I was somewhat less frustrated than you, and found it a lively read

    I too tend to trust Actes Sud, but I guess we can’t always win

    Pat

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    • July 15, 2016 at 10:26 am

      That’s not a good sign, when you don’t remember a book.
      I think the story was good enough without the St Augustine thread.
      I recommend the Gaudé I mentioned in my billet.

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  7. July 26, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Stu does like it a lot more, having just leapfrogged from your review to read his also. My concern is that without a decent grasp of French history (and I really only know the highlights) the parallels would pass me by, and without those too much would be lost for it to be worthwhile.

    Also, you’re quite right that it’s not a good sign that Pat doesn’t remember it. However much one may like a book at the time it’s never a good sign if one can’t recall it later.

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    • July 26, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      Actually, I think you miss more if you don’t know Saint Augustine. The French history mentionned here is parallel to the British history: WWI, WWII, decolonization. You should be OK.

      It has a really decent style but there’s something academic about it that I didn’t like. I still finished it, though, which is a good sign. I was disappointed because without the Saint Augustine reference, it could have been a better book. Some will argue that this parallel gives it more worth but I don’t agree with that, obviously.
      I felt a bit left out, like in The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt. I don’t read fiction to get philosophy lectures.

      Liked by 1 person

      • July 28, 2016 at 11:12 am

        Which I don’t, so that doesn’t help.

        To be honest, my appetitite for books which are self-consciously clever is limited. That doesn’t obviously mean I prize ignorance, but philosophy is better delivered by an actual philosophy lecture than a pasted-on narrative.

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        • July 28, 2016 at 10:35 pm

          That’s exactly my feeling.

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