François was in the provinces doing a tour of the franchises to check that the marketing recommendations, drawn up by experts at the highest levels, were being applied everywhere; he had to check that the brand wasn’t being ridiculed by some provincial manager or another arrogant enough to think that he knew their customers better than the head office…***
This book is one of the entrants for the “Roman de Rochefort” prize, a book that looks at a group of people working in the marketing department of a company, microcosm of many of todays groups of workers, a mix of people thrown together during the day, whose worries at the onset are more about who they are and their image in the group rather than the reason that that they work together or any hypothetical link of their jobs to the real world. The arrogance of the opening quote tells us everything we need to know in a brushstroke about the company the group of people are working for, centralised, elite and and the same time futile.
The group of people at the outset are under pressure to perform and are mostly middle-aged, a terrible thing to be in the modern competitive age. There is Henri a repressed forty something single man who had lived with his mother until her recent death and who, now free, develops a crush on his ex-miliary Serbian masseur and illegal immigrant, Goran, who Henri invites to live in exchange for becoming his personal trainer. There is the tyrant boss, Mr Michel and his trod upon assistant, Sophie, there is the discreet Francois in whom everyone confides but who never wants to take a risk with his life, there is the uninteresting Michon who has just started, by internet, to use a personal coach and of course the frustrated late thirty something receptionist Fabienne. We follow the evolution of this group, typified by the events which lead to Fabienne’s steamy day with Goran and Henri’s reaction illustrated in the following quote:
She, who recently had wanted her life to speed up, was more than rewarded: she had followed up a dinner date with the handsome François by a wild rock and roll dance where thanks to that chaterbox Michon, she had come over as a skilled dancer and then followed that by a mad day of sex that nobody was should have held against her and, precisely for this reason, Henri was now molesting her like an angry father whose barely pubescent son she had just deflowered… Fabienne got a grip on herself and gave Henri a good hard slap, and then another and so on, using both hands to make this machist phallocrat think a second time about his idea that she must be a right slut to shag a Serb on the Lord’s day…***
The book moves to it’s ineluctable end as, in preparing as a team for a marathon in which the company Number 5, the head of their department, takes a singular interest, their individual storylines each reach their conclusions.
First Published in French as “La Chair des vivants” in 2018 by P.O.L
*** My translation