And The Official winner IS

Quai du Polar 2021: You’ll maybe remember my  Last Post giving the winner of the reader’s prize, (well this reader anyway), so lets see how close the official Jury got:  



Let’ see then, my winner was … Joseph Incardona “La soustraction des possibles” (Éditions Finitude). This complex story, its construction, and the slightly sarcastic style combine to make this a most enjoyable book.

So How did the “Official Jury” do…….Well they chose:

Patrice Gain “Le Sourire du scorpion“(MOT ET LE RESTE). This uncomfortable story is based on the true life events of a genocidal criminal arrested in Lyon in 2011.


Well This was still a very good choice, it would have been my number 2 ……………………but who am I after all?….. Congrats to Patrice Gain.

Quai du Polar 2021: And The Winner Is…

Quai du Polar 2021: So here we are, with the event delayed until July this year,7f4889a0-23d1-4f38-b05c-ddb85d1ae29a I’ve had ample time to read all six of the short listed thrillers, and I must say that I needed the extra time, you’ll find out why. Here then is my “official” Winner. Let’s see if the event jury get it right on the 4th of July……………

Hannelore Cayre “Richesse Oblige”. An interesting book from a historical perspective.

Joseph Incardona “La soustraction des possibles”. This complex story, its construction, and the slightly sarcastic style combine to make this a most enjoyable book.

Gabrielle Massat “Le goût du rouge à lèvre de ma mère”. This was a long book, and pretty improbable, setting it in San Francisco seems to me to be an over complication.

Sébastien Rutés “Mictlán”. I had read a comment of despair about this before hand and can safely now say I share this despair, I needed two months to get over it.

Benoît Séverac “Tuer le fils”. An honest story, just not my cup of tea.

Patrice Gain “Le Sourire du scorpion”. This uncomfortable story is based on the true life events of a genocidal criminal arrested in Lyon in 2011.

And finally, I’ve gone with:
Joseph Incardona “La soustraction des possibles” (Éditions Finitude).

Sites to visit linked to this proud going ahead now just 3 months late.
Emma, Marina-Sofia and the official event site Quai du Polar


Benoît Séverac ‘Tuer le fils’

Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 4

Benoît Séverac: Tuer le fils (LA MANUFACTURE DU LIVRE)

The simple cop who had to carry on leading a group reduced by a quarter of its manpower – but not of its workload – for several gloomy weeks, sometimes even years, until the bosses can be bothered to appoint a new candidate for suicide, brand new, not yet damaged, just like the one who’ll sit behind Husseren’s desk to take his place.***

A crime book needs cops with gimics, a contrasting team under pressure with internal strife. Tick all the boxes, Cérisol the group leader married to a blind woman, eats jam, not just a bit, jars at a time, even more when he’s under pressure and yes at fifty percent sugar that can’t be good for his health. The other three in the undermanned group, see the opening quote, are Nicodemo an ageing portuguese catholic who’s worked with Cérisol for years and the young cop starting out with all to prove:

Grospierres was the intellectual of the team; one of those overqualified unemployed young having to reduce their career ambitions. He would have liked to change the world and found himself a civil servant earning less than two thousand euros a month.***

Soon after the convicted murderer, Matthieu Fabas is released from jail his father is found murdered in his home and Matthieu had been seen thretening him on his doorstep the previous day. Write about a subject you’re comfortable with, so Fabas whilst in prison attends a writing workshop where he is encouraged to write about himself. Severac himself has lead just such prison workshops. The story goes through several false paths until the police discover Fabas’s written work, describing the relationship between himself and his hateful father. They bring him in for questioning where we get to follow Cérisol’s technique:

There was silence in Cérisol and Nicodemo’s small office. Fabas seemed lost in his thoughts; meanwhile, Cérisol set his pawns out again on the board. It was a first game, he didn’t want to show his hand too soon.***

An honest story, just not my cup of tea.

First Published in French as “Tuer le fils” in 2020 by La Manufacrure Du Livre.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

le petit flic qui devait continuer à diriger un groupe amputé d’un quart de son effectif – mais pas de son travail – pendant plusieurs mois moroses, parfois des années, jusqu’à ce que la hiérarchie daigne enfin nommer un nouveau candidat au suicide, flambant neuf, pas encore abimé, comme celui qui s’installerait un jour dans le bureau de Husseren pour prendre sa place.

Grospierres était l’intellectuel de la brigade; un de ces jeunes surdiplômés au chomage qui devait réviser à la baisse leurs ambitions professionnelles. Il aurait voulu changer le monde et se retrouvaient sous la barre des deux mille euros mensuels dans la fonction publique.

Le silence se fit dans le bureau exigu de Cérisol et Nicodemo. Fabas semblait perdu dans ses pensées; pendant ce temps, Cérisol replaçait ses pions sur l’échiquier. C’était une première partie, il ne tenait pas à dévoiler son jeu trop tôt.

Patrice Gain ‘Le sourire du Scorpion’

Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 5

Patrice Gain: Le sourire du scorpion (MOT ET LE RESTE)

You don’t start your life over, you carry on with it, sometimes with other interests, often with other people, but you can’t delete the past. Life is the sum of many varied experiences, good or bad, delightful or dull, and the last one we add to the pile will bring it all down and life will end there.***

People’s lack of knowledge of what is for me the recent past can still easily surprise me, as here when we discover that one of the main protagonists had belonged to the Scorpions, a paramiltary group in the Bosnian war and the people around him had never heard of the war, or of Radko Mladic and so on. In this story, a family, Tom and his twin sister Luna, their parents and a friend they had met camping, Goran, are out rafting on the Tara in Montenegro. Patrice Gain instills a feeling of anxiety in the story and in one of the dangerous stretches they capsize, the twins and their mother are separated from Goran and their father. Goran makes it back to them but the father is presumed drowned and his body is not found. Goran then helps them, is on hand when they need him, and slowly replaces the father.

The family live all year round in a converted lorry, carrying out seasonal work with the children not really staying in any school for very long. The story is narrated by Tom who then starts an apprenticeship the year after his father’s death, he tells us of Goran entering their lives, of their mother falling under Goran’s influence, of his close sister moving away and avoiding them, and of being alone as his mother and Goran dissapear without warning at first for weeks on end and then longer. Tom is dissorientated living alone in the lorry in the mountains, often cold not understanding the events around him. One weekend, exceptionally, Luna comes back with some of her new friends:

Luna had never seemed so beautiful as at that moment. An outline that matched to perfection the sudden aridness of the area. The lads and girls enjoyed themselves and the evening was so vibrant. It was hot and it went onlate into the night. The farm hadn’t known such fervour in a long time.***

Tom seems surprised when Sule, a Bosniac he works with recognises Goran. One night Sule with a group of Bosniacs are looking for Goran at the lorry, they question Tom roughly, Tom who never knows where Goran and his mother are, and when they say Goran would never leave anything to chance, that he chose them, and that he specifically chose them because they were homeless dropouts, Tom is taken aback for the first time by this vision from outside, by the realisation that this view of the situation, but especially the fact that they live on the margins of society is true.

Of course Goran is much worse than Tom can imagine. This uncomfortable story is based on the true life events of a genocidal criminal arrested in Lyon in 2011.

First Published in French as “Le sourire du scorpion” in 2020 by MOT ET LE RESTE.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

On ne refait pas sa vie, on la poursuit, avec d’autres horizons parfois, d’autres personnes souvent, mais on n’efface pas le passé. Une vie n’est que l’empilement de tout un fatras de choses, bonnes ou mauvaises, goûteuses ou fades, et la dernière que l’on pose sur le tas fait s’écrouler l’ensemble et elle s’arrête là.

Luna ne m’est jamais apparue aussi belle qu’à cet instant-là. Une silhouette qui s’appariait merveilleusement avec l’abrupte aridité des lieux. Les gars et les filles ont exulté et la soirée a été très animée. Il faisait chaud et elle s’est étirée tard dans la nuit. La ferme n’avait pas connu pareille ferveur depuis bien longtemps.

Sandro Veronesi “The Hummingbird”

You’re the hummingbird because, like a hummingbird , you put all of your energy into remaining still. You manage to remain motionless in the world and in time, to stop the world and the time around you, and even sometimes to find the lost time. ***

I’ve been reading Sandro Veronesi’s books for a while now, since before my blog, but I have only  written on one previous book Terres Rares. So when his latest work arrived in tanslation in my lending library, well I could’t resist. What a well crafted book it turns out to be.

The narrator tells the story of the main protagonist, Marco, with each chapter representing a different moment in time as Marco’s life is slowly revealed to us and as we begin to understand why he is who he is. In a series of letters interspersed in the novel over several decades between Marco and Luisa, he living in Florence and she in Paris we slowly understand that their written relationship goes much further than their physical relationship, neither wanting to upend their lives and commit to each other, but why? Luisa at one point writes to Marco detailing why she thinks he is like a hummingbird , illustrated in the opening quote.

We are slowly taken through Marco’s traumatic life and incidentally, the point of combined trauma, his sister’s suicide, that explains the why of the beginnings of Marco and Luisa’s separation. But tragedies follow Marco and the relationship with the other members of his family from a young age through to the end of the book remain strained. Marco as a young adolescent is very small, his mother calls him the hummingbird because of this, and he undergoes a new and experimental hormone treatment in 1974, a cause of dispute between his parents, causing him to grow 16cm in 8 months, this in itself impacted his life and was a trauma. Then rapidly everyone except he leaves Florence, even leaves Italy. But where others would see despair, he sees hope, the only person remaining in Italy, his daughter dies in an accident leaving him as the only person to care for his grand-daughter, ‘The New Man’ who he lives for and brings up alone:

“There are those that fight all their lives, wanting to advance, to know, to conquer , to discover to progress only to realise that they were only looking for the vibration that brought them into the world: for these people the points of departure and arrival are the same. Then there are those who follow a long and adventurous trajectory  all the while remaining stationary because it is the world which slides beneath their feet and then they find themselves far from their point of departure: Marco Carrera was one of these.”.***

This is a marvelouslly poetic book, easily amongst the best of this year.

First Published in Italian as “Il Colibri” by La nave di Teseo in 2019
Translated into French by Dominique Vittoz and published as Le colibri in 2021 by Grasset & Fasquelle.
Translated into English by Elena Pala and published as The Hummingbird in 2021 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Tu es un colibri parce que, comme le colibri, tu mets toute ton énergie à rester immobile. tu réussis à arrêter le monde et le temps autour de toi, et même parfois, à trouver le temps perdu.

Il y a des êtres qui se démènent toute leur vie, désireux d’avancer, connaître, conquérir, découvrir, progresser, pour s’apercevoir qu’en définitive ils n’ont jamais cherché que la vibration qui les a jetés dans le monde: pour ceux-là, les points de départ et d’arrivée coïncident. Puis il y en a d’autres qui parcourent une longue route aventureuse tout en restant immobiles, parce que c’est le monde qui glisse sous leurs pieds et qu’ils se retrouvent très loin de leur point de départ: Marco Carrera était de ceux-là.

Sébastien Rutés ‘Mictlán’

Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 6

Sébastien Rutés: Mictlán (GALLIMARD)

….he quite simply gives him the wheel, they swap places with difficulty because Fats is fat, and Fats begins to piss out of the window at last, wathing out for sign posts, dogs lift their snouts from the carcass of a dead horse to watch him pass, Fats thinks to hi self that they have petrol for another four hours, maybe less now, he’ll have to wake up now at the next service station, he won’t be able to sleep for twelve straight hours like Old-Timer, that’s how it is, sometimes it happens for one of them, sometimes for the other, they’ve agreed to wake each other up, no one stops this fucking truck by themselves, no one gets down alone, one fills the tank whilst the other hurries to buy something to eat and drink, Fats holding the butt of his weapon, so far they’ve been lucky,……..***

Two men driving a truck full of dead bodies, never stopping, for ever? Mictlán, or the Aztec hell is a fair definition of the first chapter, 39 pages, 4 paragraphs, no full stops. I had read a comment of despair about this before hand and can safely now say I share this despair and have no energy or will to go further. In spite of this I read the second chapter before giving up. This is definitely in sixth place!

First Published in French as “Mictlán” in 2020 by GALLIMARD.
*** My translation

….il lui passe tout simplement le volant, ils échangent leur place difficilement parce que Gros est gros, et Gros se met à la fenêtre pour pisser enfin, en faisant bien attention aux panneaux indicateurs, des chiens sortent leur museau noir d’une carcasse de cheval crevé pour le regarder passer, Gros se dit qu’il reste de l’essence pour quatre heures, peut-être moins maintenant, il va devoir se réveiller à la prochaine station-service, il ne pourra pas dormir ses douze heures d’affilée comme Vieux, c’est comme ça, des fois ça tombe sur l’un et des fois sur l’autre, ils se sont mis d’accord pour se réveiller, personne n’arrête ce putain de camion tout seul, personne n’en descend tout seul, il y en a un qui fait le plein pendant que l’autre se dépêche d’acheter à manger et à boire, Gros la main sur la crosse de son arme, jusqu’ici on a eu de la chance,…

The Booker International Prize, I can leave my house now edition.

And the Winner is:

Blocked in the COVID tunnel, I know when we entered and I’m told there is light at the end, or have I lost my sight (it’s there but I can’t see it)?: So let’s use the time when I used to just see people. I’ve read the six shortlisted novels, written articles and debated extensively with myself and here are the conclusions.

Let’s begin with the duo “unfindable/unreadable” The Employees/In Memory of Memory” no further comments needed.

Next we should move on to the undeveloped: the whole subject of adolescents, evil and magic really doesn’t ring my bell. Yes, “The Dangers of Smoking in Bed“..

And then there were three! and one frustrated reviewer.

I know, as a professional jury member, books are free, but I object to just 46 pages. “The war of the Poor” was a great idea, well written…. but just as you’re beginning….well you get to the 46th page.

Just what have the Jury done in selecting these books? Was my review of last year’s competition so good that they wanted to eliminate competition? Or are they just not interested in readers?

Which leaves us with two, I guess that’s not so bad, What do you think?

Benjamin Labatut ‘When We Cease to Understand the World‘. An extremely interesting book, just too much information. It could make the excellent basis of a ludic documentary series but I wouldn’t propose it for this prize.

Let me confidently announce that the winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens has got to be the winner of this prize, All Night all Blood is Black, a fresh view on the madness of war. Winner by default but winner also by merit.

Éric Vuillard ‘The War of the Poor’

Booker International Prize 2020: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“The War of the Poor”: In order of reading book number 6.

Because the powerful never give up anything, neither bread nor freedom. It is then at that moment that he utters before them his most terrible words. Before the Crown Prince, Duke John, the Bailiff Zeus, the Mayor and Council of Allstedt, after the sword, the poor, Nebuchadnezzar, and the wrath of God, now Müntzer says: death to impious Monarchs.***

This is the story of the poor and their little known rebellions, first of all in England in the 14th century, of John Wyclif who proned translating the bible into the language of the people, who would then have a direct relationship with God and would not need the corrupt clergy, this of course was not a popular idea amongst the rich. After his death one of his disciples, John Ball fomented a peasants revolt due in part to over taxation which was then carried forward by Watt Tyler who marched on London with upwards of 60000 peasants who looted and beheaded judges. The peasants wern’t really prepared, and when the tide turned tens of thousands were put to the sword.

In the next century came the printing press and the bible was then printed in the language of the people. The revolt then flairs up in Germany lead by Thomas Müntzer who goes further than Luther:

His mass in German raised an outcry. People came from all around Allstedt to listen to the word of God, crowds gathered to hear a priest speak to them, for the first time, in their own language. In the church in Allsttedt, God spoke German.***

Müntzer was full of a vindictive rage against the corrupt Clergy and the ruling classes stirring up the people as part if the great peasant uprising of the early 16th century. Where once again up to 100000 of the the poorly prepared people were slaughtered by the arisocrats armies.

This all too short a book, only 46 pages, only scratched the surface of a passionate subject, of these two interesting excerpts of history.

First Published in French as “La guerre des pauvres” in 2019 by Actes Sud.
Translated into English by Mark Polizzotti and published as The War of the Poor by Other Press in 2020
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Car les puissants ne cèdent jamais rien, ni le pain ni la liberté. Et c’est à ce moment qu’il prononce devant eux sa plus terrible parole. Devant le duc Jean, le prince héritier, le bailli Zeiss, le bourgmestre et le conseil d’Allstedt, après le glaive, les pauvres, Nabuchodonosor et la colère de Dieu, voici que Müntzer dit: il faut tuer les souverains impies.

Il va plus loin que Luther. Sa messe en allemand soulève un tollé. Les gens viennent des alentours d’Allstedt écouter la parole de Dieu, des foules se déplacent pour entendre un prêtre s’adresser à eux pour la première fois dans leur langue. Dans l’église d’Allstedt, Dieu parle allemand.

Mariana Enriquez ‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed’

Booker International Prize 2021: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“The Dangers of Soking in Bed”: In order of reading book number 3.

Their frantic families came to get them without thinking too much about how odd the case was, how unsettling it was that the children should come back all at the same time.

Mariana Enriquez’s Danger is a book of disturbing short stories , mostly about youths and evil or death, such as Rambla Triste and Barcelona’s ghost children or The Well where a the women in a family transfer evil from themselves to their youngest daughter through a witch and via a photo. The story which stood out for me was the most developed and longest in the book “The kids who came back”

In this story, Mechi, a council worker was emloyed to archive the files on the many missing children in the city and despite working with two other women who don’t talk to her in a very noisy office under a motorway flyover, and despite the lack of importance of her work she genuinly feels good about this job:

Since she’d taken over—almost two years before—the archive had received lavish praise. And that was in spite of the fact that it had a merely documentary value: the important files, the ones that mobilized police and investigators to follow up clues about the kids, were in police departments and prosecutors’ offices. Her archive was more useless, a sort of constantly expanding report without the capacity to inspire action.

Suddenly then over a short period of time these children begin to re-appear in the city parks, but exactly as they were when they dissapeared, sometimes many years previously but are by and large accepted into their grieving families as illustrated in the opening quote before being rejected as not being the person that had dissapeared.

This book, as often for me with short stories, left me with a feeling of “undeveloped”. The whole subject of adolescents, evil and magic really doesn’t ring my bell.

First Published in Spanish as “Los peligros de fumar en la cama” by Anagrama in 2017.
Translated into English by Megan McDowell and published as “The Dangers of Smoking in Bed” in 2021 by Granta Books.