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Literature / The Malaussène Saga

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La saga Malaussène (The Malaussène Saga), also known as the Belleville cycle, is a series of five novels and a novella by French author Daniel Pennac.

Benjamin Malaussène is a thirty-something guy, who lives in the multi-ethnic Parisian neighbourhood of Belleville with his numerous younger half-siblings and their epileptic dog. He works as a professional scapegoat for a large, unnamed department store - his job is to take the blame and be loudly berated by his manager in front of complaining customers, so that they will be moved to compassion and retract any request for compensation or lawsuit.

The works that make up the original cycle are:

  • The Scapegoat (Au bonheur des ogres note , 1985)
  • The Fairy Gunmother (La fée carabine note , 1987)
  • Write to Kill (La petite marchande de prose note , 1990)
  • Monsieur Malaussène note  (1995)
    • Monsieur Malaussène au théâtre note  (stage adaptation of Monsieur Malaussène, 1996)
  • Des chrétiens et des maures note  (novella, 1996)
  • Passion Fruit (Aux fruits de la passion note , 1999)

After a 18-year pause, Pennac picked up again the tale of the Malaussène family with a new series of novels, titled Le cas Malaussène (The Malaussène Case). This second cycle consists (as of 2023) of the following novels:
  • Ils m'ont menti note  (2017)
  • Terminus Malaussène (2023)

The Fairy Gunmother was adapted into a television film in 1988 (as part of the Série noire TV series of crime stories adaptations) with Tom Novembre, Fabrice Luchini and Anna Galiena, while The Scapegoat was made into a film in 2013, starring Raphaël Personnaz as Benjamin and Bérénice Bejo as Julie.

Not to be confused with The Triplets of Belleville.

The Malaussène Saga contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Mama Malaussène had her first child Benjamin at 14. She's in her mid-forties when her seventh child Verdun is born.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: Downplayed, the first book opens on Christmas Eve when the first explosion happens, but the plot doesn't pick up in full until a couple of weeks later.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Since the cycle more or less fits inside the murder mystery genre, there's always a dead body around - and every story ends with the birth of a new Malaussène child. Subverted with Des chrétiens et des maures where there's no deaths.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Le Petit wears a pair of pink glasses with very thick lenses.
  • Bottle Episode: Des chrétiens et des maures is considerably shorter (being a novella rather than a full novel) and largely takes place inside the Malaussène home.
  • Camera Fiend: Clara.
  • The Case of...: The title of the second cycle, Le cas Malaussène.
  • Character Title:
    • La petite marchande de prose is Queen Zabo, whose backstory is explored in the novel.
    • Monsieur Malaussène is Benjamin's eponymous son, who's born at the end of the novel.
    • Likewise, Passion Fruit is Thérèse's daughter.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Lampshaded at the end of Write to Kill, when a comatose Benjamin who underwent total Organ Theft incredibly happens to be histocompatible with the novel's Big Bad, who's in the very same hospital and conveniently very recently dead.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ben, both in narration and in spoken dialogue.
  • Disappeared Dad: None of the Malaussène siblings know who their (respective) father is, though Des chrétiens et des maures is a flashback to how Mama Malaussène met Le Petit's father, and Ben knows (at least by name) Verdun's presumed father Robert.
  • Fortune Teller: Thérèse. She's never wrong, to the point that a minister decides to marry her in order to make use of her gift — alas for him, her gift was reliant on Virgin Power.
  • Gay Best Friend: Théo, Benjamin's coworker and honorary aunt to the other Malaussènes.
  • Gay Paree: Undergoes a constant Decon-Recon Switch. On the one hand, the typical Parisian stereotypes take a backseat to seldom-seen aspects such as multi-ethnic neighbourhoods, the criminal underbelly and the machinations of the modern high society. On the other hand, the multitudes of zany characters that populate the books and the surreal quality of the story still show the city under a fantastical light.
  • Genre-Busting: It's difficult to categorise the saga under a single label. While "crime fiction" may be the easiest one, as Benjamin and his family are always inevitably entangled in cases of murder and assorted felonies, there are also elements of thriller, family drama, romance, satire, and absurdist comedy.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: In The Scapegoat, Louna is pregnant and constantly wondering if she should keep the baby, to the point that Benjamin ultimately loses patience and snaps at her. She ultimately gives birth to twin girls.
  • Goth: Thérèse.
  • Heroic B So D: As Clara gets on the scene of her would-be husband's murder in Write to Kill, she doesn't cry or freak out. Instead, she silently pulls out her camera and snaps pictures of the crime scene.
  • Honorary Aunt: Julie and Théo, to Benjamin's younger siblings (yes, Théo is an aunt too).
  • Incest Subtext: Ben openly admits from the start that she finds Clara attractive, and he says that were they not siblings, they would have been soulmates. This keeps going on even after Ben gets together with Julie.
  • Ironic Name: Benjamin, whose name can be French slang for the youngest sibling in the family, is the eldest child of his household.
  • Made of Iron: Julie, after being tortured in The Fairy Gunmother.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Julie Corrençon is an intrepid investigative journalist who once performed an appendectomy on herself on a boat in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Her boyfriend Benjamin is a mild-mannered Non-Action Guy who works as a professional fall guy.
  • Massively Numbered Siblings: The Malaussène siblings, from eldest to youngest: Benjamin, Louna, Clara, Thérèse, Jérémy, Le Petit and Verdun (who's born in The Fairy Gunmother).
  • No Name Given: In opposition to their newborn relatives, we never get to know the names of Louna's twins.
  • Only Sane Woman: Louna is the most normal-behaving of the Malaussène children, to the point that she lives elsewhere.
  • Organ Theft: Benjamin falls in a coma during Write to Kill and a corrupt doctor takes advantage of it to explant all of his organs. He later gets the organs back thanks to Contrived Coincidence (see that trope above).
  • Perpetual Smiler: C'Est Un Ange starts smiling barely a few seconds after being born and never really stops afterwards. When he needs a clean diaper or a bottle, his aunt Verdun screams instead.
  • The Place:
    • Au bonheur des ogres refers to the deparment store where Benjamin works (the English title, The Scapegoat, is instead a Job Title).
    • Aux fruits de la passion is the name of the day care which Thérèse opens at the story's end.
  • Practically Different Generations: Benjamin is around thirty years old when his youngest sibling Verdun is born. Her relationship with her nephew C'Est Un Ange — who's a year younger — is more of her being a Cool Big Sis.
  • Promotion to Parent: Since their mother is always globe-trotting and their fathers are unknown, it's Benjamin (and, less so, Louna and Clara) who takes care of his siblings.
  • Really Gets Around: Mama Malaussène. This trope is obvious given that she has six — later seven — kids, each and every one of them from a different unknown father.
  • Repetitive Name: Monsieur Malaussène Malaussène, Benjamin's son. "Monsieur Malaussène" is his first name and "Malaussène" his family name.
  • The Scapegoat: Benjamin's profession, first for the department store then for Talion Publishing.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The original title of The Scapegoat, Au bonheur des ogres, is a play on Émile Zola's novel Au bonheur des dames (The Ladies' Delight), which is likewise set in a department store.
    • La petite marchande de prose riffs on The Little Match Girl (to be precise, on its first film adaptation: La petite marchande d'allumettes).
  • Series Fauxnale: Passion Fruit. After 18 years, Le Cas Malaussène goes back to Belleville to tell more stories.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Ben is a kind and mild-mannered (though snarky) guy who gets thrown into all sorts of surreal situations.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Jérémy is in charge of naming every Malaussène child born after him. This results in the girls being named "Verdun" (after the bloody World War One battle — she screams non-stop) and "Maracuja" ("passion fruit", literally and figuratively), and the boys "Le Petit" ("the little one", because he was really small), "C'Est Un Ange" ("he's an angel", because he was peaceful like an angel), and "Monsieur Malaussène" ("Mister Malaussène" — full name Monsieur Malaussène Malaussène). Ils m'ont menti reveals C'Est Un Ange and Monsieur Malaussène are respectively called Sept and Mosma for short.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: The bulk of Des chrétiens et des maures is spent retelling the circumstances of Le Petit's conception and birth, and as such it's the earliest story in the chronology of the series.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Clara.