Bam, bam, Berthe reloads. Her limbs tremble. A lot of stress for an old woman of 102…. De Gore is lying a few yards from his dog kennel, he has a hole in the back and a hole in his ass, in addition to the official one. Shit, maybe she went a bit over the top. Berthe had never liked him, de Gore. The worthy descendant of his scumbag father. She hadn’t thought though that he’d wind up at the end of her shotgun, even if she had played with the idea for years..***
This book is the surprise selection for the “Roman de Rochefort” prize, a book high on dry humour and regional dialect from the centre of France. The story opens on the initial quote, featuring Berthe a 102 year old firing first of all at her neighbour and then above the heads of the police that come to arrest her. Little do the police then realise the scope of the confessions and life story of Berthe. As the questioning begind we quickly understand that Berthe, famed for her flowery language has her own ideas of how to speak to those around her:
“f’you find my anwers too long, m’off home to listen to my game on the radio.”
“I suspect your game is finished by now.”
“Very clever! And why do you wanna know all this anyway?” says the grandmother getting annoyed.
“Its the protocol”.
“I dont give a fuck, me, if you’ve got a sore ass-hole.”
“I’m sorry” gasps Ventura.
“You’re the one talkin’ to me ’bout yer proctologue.”
The story tells us the life story of Berthe from being born during the first world war with a father killed at the front, to being brought up by a grandmother that survives by distilling fruit alcohol and selling it to any men left in the villages through to her many marriages, finishing up a widow each time, beginning by killing a nazi rapist to killing husbands for abuse and slowly going towards killing them for freedom.
The story takes us through many episodes in the police station as well with the detactive she calls Columbo and a short period in the holding cells where she talks with a young delinquant with neither understanding directly the other’s slang but with a transvestite translating for them, we see the instant respect of the youth when he discovers that she is a serial killer. We cover as well the detective being put in his place on women’s rights by the old lady as he tries to tackle her on the murder of a nazi that had raped her:
“You’ve got a nazi burried in your cellar”?
“Well done you’ve been listening”.
“That you assassinated then”? checked Ventura in case the old lady was saying this from senility.
“Oh, no,in fact you haven’t been listening. you missed the rape bit”.
“Yes, of course, there was the attempted rape”, corrected the inspector
“Attempted? my description wasn’t clear enough”? said Berthe with outrage…..
“We’re in 2016, I’m talking to you about rape and you’re insinuating that I’ve something to reproach myself for”?
“Mrs Gavignol..”, the inspector tried to recover.
“Oh yeah, so now we’re putting on the form”? says Berthe bitterly.
“Berthe”! Ventura replies, “I couldn’t care less about your nazi, the exceptional circumstaces plead in your favour…”
“Decidedly speaking, the more you talk, the more insulting you become”.***
The book was a pleasant read but a bit too long for me.
First Published in French as “Mamie Luger” in 2018 by Les Arènes.*** My translation