Arthur Dreyfuss leads a relatively simple life, working as a mechanic in Long, France. His life becomes more interesting, however, when he answers a knock on the door, and finds a Hollywood star on his doorstep.
But things aren’t quite what they seem – Jeanine may look exactly like Scarlett Johansson, and even plays up to the part a little at first, but she has led a very different life to what you might expect of a Hollywood star, and this is gradually made clearer to the reader.
This novel has a very simple moral to put across – it’s what’s on the inside that counts. This is beautifully summed up in the relationship that slowly develops between Arthur and Jeanine. Arthur sees her at first as the Hollywood star, and can’t get past her flawless appearance, but he gradually gets to know Jeanine and starts to see her for what she is on the inside.
Jeanine has led a difficult life – constantly seen as an object, men want to bed her and women envy her for her looks. She hates the fact that so few people see her as she truly is, and so this relationship with Arthur seems like the beginning of something special, particularly as he seems really sweet, and doesn’t try to take advantage or make a move on her until she is ready.
This novel has an omniscient narrator. Whilst some people don’t like this, I thought it worked well in this novel – there are little hints of what’s going to come that made me want to keep reading. And it is a quick read – I read it in a single day. it’s quirky and amusing, and I did chuckle at times. It’s also surprisingly tender, and captures a developing relationship perfectly.
I can’t really talk about this novel without mentioning the court case that went with it. In 2014, Johansson sued Delacourt, claiming that the novel makes “fraudulent claims about her personal life” (1). Delacourt’s defence was that it was meant as a tribute to someone he sees as “the archetype of beauty today” (2). I’m not sure where I stand on this. At the end of the day, this isn’t a novel about Johansson – it’s a novel about someone who looks like her. But then, it’s easy to take that view when you’re not involved.
One thing that I will say is this – try to avoid reading the various articles regarding the court case – they contain spoilers.
The First Thing You See is available in the UK from 10th September 2015. Many thanks to Sam Eades for sending me a copy to review.