Little Paul, aged seven, was standing on the window ledge, his arms flung wide. Staring into the void. He was wearing his black mourning suit, but his tie had been ripped off and his white shirt was open. Everyone stared into the heavens as though anticipating the launch of an airship. Paul bent his knees slightly. Before anyone had time to call to him, to run, he let go of the shutters as Madeleine screamed. As it fell, the child’s body fluttered wildly like a bird hit by a shotgun pellet. After a swift, hectic descent, he landed on the black canopy and disappeared for a moment. The crowd suppressed a sigh of relief. But he bounced off the taut canvas and reappeared, like a jack-in-the-box. Once again, the crowd watched as he was catapulted into the air, over the curtain. And landed with a crash on his grandfather’s coffin.
Since Lemaitre’s “The Great Swindle” (Au revoir là-haut), written in 2013 he has written two other books to complete a cycle of books dealing with the inter-war period, this book translated into English as “All Human Wisdom”, is the second in the cycle.
This book, covers the first part of the interwar years, beginning with the death of the head of the Péricourt bank, Marcel Péricourt and his almost state funeral attended amongst others by the President of the Republic. But this funeral, almost as a preface to these difficult years, turns to chaos as Marcel‘s grandson dives from a second floor window onto Marcel‘s coffin, as described in the opening quote.
This book covers the main theme of revenge, unexpected revenge. Marcel may have been an astute banker but as a Human being he was not too insightful. Firstly attempting to set up his daughter and heir Madeleine with his adviser Gustave Joubert, which after a short while Madeleine rejects, and then insulting Joubert in his will:
“To Gustave Joubert, the devoted and honest colleague who has worked alongside me for so many years, one hundred thousand francs. And to the staff of the Péricourt household, fifteen thousand francs, to be paid out by my daughter as and when she sees fit.” Joubert, who had all the poise and self-control that Charles entirely lacked, considered his bequest bitterly. This was not even a kick in the teeth, it was charity. He had ranked last, just before the maids, the chauffeur and the gardeners.
Lemaitre first shows us the connivance and insider dealings of a certain class in the interwar period as Joubert, in his role as adviser, leads Madeleine to ruin whilst enriching himself and eventually buying the Péricourt home for himself. And here, almost in Shakespearean form at end of this second act, he has set the scene for Madeleine‘s revenge.
This is an excellent series capturing the spirit of these interwar years, I would warmly recommend this book, which can be read as part of the series or as a standalone book in its own right.
First published in French by Albin Michel in 2018 as ‘Couleurs de lˋincendie’
Translated into English by Franck Wynne and published by Maclehose Press as ‘All Human Wisdom’ in 2021.