The Safe House: Book summary and reviews of The Safe House by Christophe Boltanski

The Safe House

by Christophe Boltanski

The Safe House by Christophe Boltanski X
The Safe House by Christophe Boltanski
Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

In Paris's exclusive Saint-Germain neighborhood is a mansion. In that mansion lives a family. Deep in that mansion. The Bolts are that family, and they have secrets. The Safe House tells their story.

When the Nazis came, Étienne Boltanski divorced his wife and walked out the front door, never to be seen again during the war. So far as the outside world knew, the Jewish doctor had fled. The truth was that he had sneaked back to hide in a secret crawl space at the heart of the house. There he lived for the duration of the war. With the Liberation, Étienne finally emerged, but he and his family were changed forever - anxious, reclusive, yet proudly eccentric. Their lives were spent, amid Bohemian disarray and lingering wartime fears, in the mansion's recesses or packed comically into the protective cocoon of a Fiat.

That house (and its vehicular appendage) are at the heart of Christophe Boltanski's ingeniously structured, lightly fictionalized account of his grandparents and their extended family. The novel unfolds room by room - each chapter opening with a floorplan - introducing us to the characters who occupy each room, including the narrator's grandmother - a woman of "savage appetites" - and his uncle Christian, whose haunted artworks would one day make him famous. "The house was a palace," Boltanski writes, "and they lived like hobos." Rejecting convention as they'd rejected the outside world, the family never celebrated birthdays, or even marked the passage of time, living instead in permanent stasis, ever more closely bonded to the house itself.

The Safe House was a literary sensation when published in France in 2015 and won the Prix de Prix, France's most prestigious book prize. With hints of Oulipian playfulness and an atmosphere of dark humor, The Safe House is an unforgettable portrait of a self-imprisoned family.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Boltanski describes his family as afraid 'of everything, of nothing, of others, of ourselves,' but what comes through in this short, smart, funny book is bravery and toughness, especially that of his grandmother, who in a world of imaginary and real terrors kept the family safe and together." - Publishers Weekly

"Complex and meticulously plotted; this mystery house full of odd characters will make the reader consider storytelling as the building of a physical and mental space." - Kirkus

"The Safe House is well crafted and ingeniously structured. Christophe Boltanski is a superb stylist, moving with ease, always seamlessly, between different times and various places. Despite its claustrophobic appearance, the novel is quite spacious and emblematic in telling a story of historical horror, displacement, and human struggle for survival." - Ha Jin, author of The Boat Rocker

"Maybe every memoirist, meditating on the past, inevitably writes fiction, but Christophe Boltanski's entrancing novel walks the high wire between memory and imagination with exceptional grace, wit - and deadly force. A brilliant, moving, and entirely original work of art, which is to say a work of truth, as if a century, rather than a man, had written its memoir." - Patricia Hampl, author of Blue Arabesques

This information about The Safe House was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Christophe Boltanski

Christophe Boltanski is an award-winning journalist who reported for Libération from London, Jerusalem, and the Gulf War. The Safe House is his first novel. Laura Marris is a poet, essayist, and translator. She has been a MacDowell Colony fellow, and her translation of Louis Guilloux's Le Sang noir is forthcoming from the New York Review Books.

More Author Information

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more literary fiction...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    by Sidik Fofana
    'Everybody got a story, everybody got a tale / Question is: Is it despair or prevail?' ...
  • Book Jacket: Fire Season
    Fire Season
    by Leyna Krow
    Fire Season is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that touches upon multiple genres and themes. It ...
  • Book Jacket: The Story of Russia
    The Story of Russia
    by Orlando Figes
    In The Story of Russia, British historian and writer Orlando Figes shares panoramic and ...
  • Book Jacket: Moth
    Moth
    by Melody Razak
    On August 15, 1947, India gained independence from the United Kingdom, and on that same day the ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.