Novella a Day in May 2020 #11

The Suicide Shop – Jean Teule (2007, trans. Sue Dyson 2008) 169 pages

It’s a funny one this. I only post about books I recommend and I do recommend this quirky, gothic, post-apocalyptic tale, but something stopped me loving it as much as some of Gallic Books other offerings.

The titular shop is run by the Tuvache family, who for generations have offered people ways to end their lives. They are mournful in nature and bleak in outlook, apart from Alan, the youngest Tuvache who is bad for business.

“please PLEASE stop smiling! Do you want to drive away all our customers? Why do you have this mania for rolling your eyes round and wiggling your fingers either side of your ears? Do you think customers come here to see your smile?”

Poor Alan’s schoolwork is no better, failing to capture the environmental desolation that humans live with:

“A path leading to a house with a door and open windows, under a blue sky where a big sun shines! Now come on, why aren’t there any clouds or pollution in your landscape? […] Where’s the radiation? And the terrorist explosions? It’s totally unrealistic. You should come and see what Vincent and Marilyn were drawing at your age!”

Alan and his siblings are named after famous suicides: Turing, van Gogh and Monroe. Vincent refuses to eat and is planning a grisly theme park where people can die in various inventive ways, Marilyn is depressed and feels ugly and cumbersome. They are a perfect fit for their family; only Alan resolutely forges his own path, despite living in a shop where the carrier bags state: “Has your life been a failure? Let’s make your death a success!”

There isn’t a plot so much in The Suicide Shop, rather we follow the family through the years as Alan proves an irresistible sunny force, exerting more influence over his family than they initially realise. Their bafflement with Alan reminded me of The Addams Family, (which I loved as a child), completely at a loss as to what to do with someone who doesn’t share their world view.

“We force him to watch the TV news to try and demoralise him”

As you’d expect, the humour in The Suicide Shop is very dark. It sells rusty razor blades with a sign that says “even if you don’t make a deep enough cut, you’ll get tetanus” but overall it’s a gentle humour, like the woman who grows attached to the trapdoor spider she buys to end her life, names it Denise and starts knitting it booties.

Looking on goodreads, there’s plenty of people who adored this story and I’m not entirely sure why I’m not one of them.  But I still found The Suicide Shop a quick, diverting read with some entertaining touches.

“Life is the way it is. It’s worth what it’s worth! It does it’s best, within limitations. We mustn’t ask too much of life either. It’s best to look on the bright side.”

The Suicide Shop was made into an animated film in 2012, directed by Patrick Leconte. Here’s the English language trailer:

25 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May 2020 #11

  1. I have to admit that does sound like my kind of dark humour (although, having volunteered for the Samaritans, I can see why it can feel too close to the bone and inappropriate). The quotes are great though, and it sounds very inventive and playful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It sounds very funny and it reminds of a cartoon I used to watch when I was a child. It was about a dragon who wanted to become a fireman. His family was devastated, this child didn’t want to light fires but to extinguish them!

    Teulé has a great sense of humour but I wonder if the whole book of it didn’t tire you in the end.

    Have you read A Charming Mass Suicide by Arto Paasilinna ?
    It’s the story of two people who stumble upon each other in a clearing where they’d both been to commit suicide. They decide that committing suicide on one’s own is a lonely affair and create a society to gather other suicidal people and commit suicide together. It’s a lot of fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds like a great cartoon 😀

      Yes, maybe a short story would have worked better. I would definitely read Teule again.

      I’ve not read the Paasilinna but I really enjoyed Year of the Hare so I will look out for it – thank you for the recommendation!


  3. I completely get that dark humour is one way in which we humans cope with difficult subjects. But I can’t decide how I feel about the concept of this book. I am on the board of the Scottish Association of Mental Health and we have far too many conversations about rising suicide rates. On the other hand, I can see from your review that there is a lighter side to the story – perhaps along the lines of It’s a Wonderful Life? On balance, I don’t think it is one that I will be rushing towards – you have provided me with plenty of other titles to look out for instead. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s a tricky one Liz. I had similar feelings about the subject, but I thought I’d go with it for the story, but even then it didn’t quite work for me. If I’d lost someone to suicide I don’t think I could read it. The suicides aren’t dwelt on at all, its the interactions in the shop and the family relationships that are the subject really. But even so I’m still undecided on this novella.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Novella a Day in May 2020 #17 | madame bibi lophile recommends

  5. I’m glad you did post about this, even if it wasn’t a real favourite, as you’ve described it in such a way that I immediately thought of two readers who would just LOVE this. Oh, three! In a certain reading mood, I think I’d find it hilarious too. It’s certainly a nice change from the other books so far this month, in any case, thematically, I mean.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The Suicide Shop, Jean Teule | Necromancy Never Pays

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