Quai Du Polar 2022

Now this may be a “Normal” year In The Time of Covid. The ‘Quai du Polar’ is still programmed for the beginning of April in Lyon, Last year was postponed until the summer so let’s see whether this fair which concentrates on thrillers will go ahead as planned, for more info try the official website. official website.

So for two years running now and twelve books total read, the festival has chosen my second place book as their winner twice, so watch my blogs and keep a look out for the bookmaker’s favourite, my second choice!
The following are the pre-selected books which I will read, found on the official website, see below.

Olivier Bordaçarre Appartement 816 (L’Atalante) 160 pages
Max Izambard Marchands de mort subite (Rouergue) 352 pages
Hervé Le Corre Traverser la nuit (Rivage) 320 pages
Elsa Marpeau L’âme du fusil (Gallimard) 192 pages
Gabrielle Massat Trente grammes (Le Masque) 450 pages
Michèle Pedinielli La patience de l’immortelle (L’Aube) 224 pages

And the winner should be…….2021 prix Roman Rochefort

So After a huge reading effort I can confidently say that the final 3 books should be…

In reverse Order

3. Irène Kauffer ‘Dibbouks.
2. Abby Geni ‘The Lightkeepers’

And the Winner should be

1. Britt Benett ‘The Vanishing Half’

Official Wine, food, chatting and of course voting 27th of november!

Andrés Barba ‘Une république lumineuse’


But the truth is stubborn and even like this they never stopped being children. How could we forget it when the scandal was precisely this. Children. And then one day they were thieves. “They seemed so nice!” said some,img_0249but this expression hid a personal slight: “they seemed so nice, but they tricked us, the little hypocrites.” Children, yes, but not like ours.***


This book, my fifth read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, concerns an unnamed central south american country and a set of events in 1993 leading up to a drama whichthe narrator lokks back on twenty years later, the death of a large number of children in circumstances not revealed until the end of the book. Slowly but surely a large number of children drift into the town of San Cristobal without anyone knowing where they come from nor understanding the strange language they speak. Initially they just sit around talking and playing with each other but with no real interaction with the towns people who at first are mildly curious about them. The story is told through the eyes of the narrator, a social worker who himself has recently moved to this city at the edge of the jungle with his wife, who is happy to move back to her native town and his adolescent step-daughter. As the children begin to steel to survive, the town’s people begin to turn against them and in order to do so must show to themselves that they are not like their own children. illustrated in the opening quote:

The town slowly becomes hostile towards the children, raising questions of who decides which children should be provided for and which not, what are the rules? Would these rules be obvious to children without parents who didn’t speak the town’s language? The people don’t know where the children go at night and assume that they camp out in the jungle. When better than Christmas to see the differences between the haves and the have nots? One day, drama strikes at the Dakota supermarket and things can never go back to how they were:


It probably wasn’t by chance if the attack on the Dakota supermarket took place after the holidays. Never quite like at Christmas or the New Year do we perceive with such clarity that the unhappy do not live in the same world as the happy.
***


During those ten minutes, people entered and left as if nothing was happening; one woman took advantage of the confusion to steel what seemed to be hair dye whilst at the other side of the counter a ten year old had just stuck a knife into an adults stomach.***


The town’s people then hunt for the children in the jungle but after several days hunting cannot find them, eventually they coerce a child they find, by a form of torture, sleep deprivation, to betray the others. Then truedrama strikes and the betrayer is the only child that doesn’t die and he must live with this guilt for the rest of his life.


Another book that never really gained my interest, maybe too much of a parable, not in my shortlist.

First Published in spanish as “República luminosa” in 2017, by Casanovas and Lynch
Translated into french by François Gaudry and published as “Une république lumineuse” by Christian Bourgeois in 2020
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Mais la réalité est tétue et même ainsi ils ne cessaient d’être des enfants. Comment pouvions-nous l’oublier alors que précisément le scandale était là. Des enfants. Et un beau jour, c’étaient des voleurs. “Ils avaient l’air si gentils!” s’exclamaient certains, mais cette réaction cachait une offense personnelle: “Ils avaient l’air si gentils, mais ils nous ont trompés, ces petits hypocrites.” Des enfants, oui, mais pas comme nos enfants.

Ce ne fut peut-être pas par hasard si l’attaque du supermarché Dakota eut lieu après les fêtes. Jamais comme à Noël ou au Nouvel An on ne perçois avec autant d’acuité que le monde des tristes n’est pas le même que celui des heureux.

Pendant ces dix minutes, des personnes entrent, sortent, reviennent comme s’il ne ne se passait rien; une femme profite de la confusion pour voler ce qui ressemble à de la teinture pour cheveux, tandis que de l’autre côté du rayon un enfant de dix ans vient de planter un couteau dans le ventre d’un adulte.

Frédérique Boyer ‘Le lièvre’


I knew he was lieing. But I wanted to believe him. His voice had all the reassurance of a warrior who had suffered a terrible setback and was looking for revenge. And it would take the time it would take. img_0259He had long been locked in the room of lost chances. Life was a dangerous game. There were only a fews hours left for him to find the key to free himself.***


This book, my seventh read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, a relatively short book with the narrator revisiting an events in his childhood as one of his parents neighbours who lived above them befriended the narrator who needed to leave the straightjacket of his home as he approached adolescence. His neighbour is a rough character who is supposed to have a job involving driving around the south west of France towards the end of the sixties but doesn’t actually seem to do much as he drives around with the boy in the car. The narrators description of him in the opening paragraph seems to sum him up well.

His view in his own family looking back is in a way like his view of the neighbour, the word “inexorablel seems to say that their fate is also fixed:


It wasn’t necessarily sad, or it doesn’t seem so to me these days when I see us so, and we resembled small characters from a silent movie, trying hard, to the beat of some infernal music, to repeat the mistakes without seeing them, led inexorably forward as if by a cruel joke they didn’t understand.***


He seems at one point to ask himself why he keeps mulling over these memories so many years later and the answer is in the precise words of his analysis.


Because, without a doubt, like an assassin, childhood always revisits the the scene of it’s crime.***


So what was the event that troubles him all these years later? Some thime before the police come to get the neighbour, whom he never sees again, he is taken hunting and the neighbour pushes him to shoot at a wild hare, he is retrospectively only partially taken in by the fact that his shot killed the hare, supposing that the neighbour fired in quick succesion to kill the hare. It is the carrying the hare back to their appartment block, not being able to bring it back to life and the moment that he realises that dearh is definitive that troubles him so much. This moment far more than the very public arrest of the neighbour.

A short troubling book, well written but which didn’t ring a bell for me.

First Published in french as “Le lièvre” in 2021, by Gallimard
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Je savais qu’il mentait. Mais je voulais y croire. Sa voix avait l’assurance d’un guerrier qui aurait subi un revers terrible et promettrait de revenir se venger. Et cela prendrait le temps qu’il faudrait. Il avait depuis longtemps élu domicile dans la salle des chances perdues. La vie était un jeu dangereux. Il n’avait plus que quelques heures pour trouver la clé qui le libérerait.

Ce n’était pas forcément triste, ou ça ne l’est plus tout à fait à mes yeux aujourd’hui quand je nous revois ainsi, et que nous ressemblons alors aux petits personnages d’un film muet, appliqués sur une musique infernale à enchaîner les erreurs sans les voir, et entraînés inexorablement dans la mécanique d’un gag cruel qui leur échappe.

Parce que sans doute, comme l’assassin, l’enfance revient toujours sur les lieux de son crime.

Florence Aubenas ‘L’inconnu de la poste’


One evening, he’d imagined a bank job in front of the other two sat on the sofa. He’d pulled one of Corinne’s stockings over his head, waving about as if he had a shotgun. img_0248There’d be two motorbikes, one of them would be burnt at the bank, then everyone would head of into another county. He’d seen it in an american film. Rambouille shrugged his shoulders: “You don’t even have a bike license.”***


This book, my tenth read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, is based on another true story, investigated by Florence Aubenas. In a small town in the Bugey region of France where everybody knows everybody, and the only employment in the area is ensured by the “Plastic Valley” which originally developed in the sixties and seventies in mostly family businesses with little investment or health standards. Unemployment is high as is petty crime. The postmistress is found murdered in her micro post office. At once the thought is that the murderer must be an outsider, but as none is found suspicion falls slowly falls on a marginal character, living in a run down flat opposite the post office, “the actor”, Thomassin. The opening quote of him showing his friends how he would carry out a robbery was later brought against him in the case:

Aubenas tells the story of Thomassin and his band of friends, Thomassin had been brought up from foster home to foster home, with his brother Jerôme before being discovered at a casting by a french film director looking for someone who really looked that they could live the part of the rough character in a film, a film for which he won the major award of the year for a promising young actor. But with no real outside support he was happy to show off to his friends in his housing estate and easily spent all of his money. A pattern he was to repeat with each of his following more and more spaced apart films until we find him living in Bugey where he had once been weaned off drugs by a childhood friend. As after the murder the police were listening in on his phone calls, they hear him, drunk, talking to his brother about his youth:


Thomassin dials Jerôme’s number…..”at mother Picolo’s place, her son forced us to do blow jobs, we were raped.” He said “I lost my virginity when I was eight”.***


The story is a series of tragedies. The micro post office only existed because the father of Catherine Burgod, the dead woman, had been mayor for a number of years and had used his influence to keep the agency open for his daughter. Thomassin’s friends all die from substance abuse and Thomassin himself is incarcerated for several years awaiting trial before being freed when the law would not let them keep him inside any longer without trial. France’s current justice minister, a previous famous barrister had taken up his case. This was when Florence Aubenas first heard of Thomassin:


The First time I heard of Thomassin was from a Casting Director he’d worked with at the start of his acting career. She showed me some of the letters he had sent her from prison.***


Florence Aubenas keeps us on tack with this interesting read full of detailed background on each of the characters, fascinating from start to end.

First Published in french as “L’inconnu de la poste” in 2021, by L’Olivier*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Un soir, il a imaginé un braquage devant les deux autres posés sur son canapé. Il s’était enfilé un vieux bas de Corinne sur le visage, gesticulant comme avec un fusil. Il y aurait deux motos, dont l’une serait brûlée sur place, puis tout le monde se replierait dans un autre département. Il avait vu le truc dans un film américain. Rambouille avait haussé les épaules: “T’as même pas le permis.”

Thomassin compose le numéro de Jérôme……”Chez la mère Picolo, son fils nous obligeait à faire des fellations, nous avons été violés.” Il dit: “moi j’ai été dépucelé à huit ans”.

La première fois que j’ai entendu parler de Thomassin, c’était par une directrice de casting avec qui il avait travaillé á ses débuts d’acteur. Elle m’avait montré quelques-unes des lettres qu’il lui avait envoyées de prison.

Abby Geni ‘The Lightkeepers’


All the biologists had seasons in which they could focus on their areas of expertise (when their animals ruled the roost) and seasons when they were required to help the others (when their animals were absent). During the summer, Forest, the shark specialist, had been in command.
He and Galen had given orders, and everyone else had jumped to obey. But autumn had brought the whales, and winter would give way to Seal Season, which would be followed by Bird Season. Each biologist had a moment in the sun. This was Mick’s time to shine.


This book, my fourth read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, and my first by Abby Geni. Miranda, a photographer chooses to come to the Farradon islands, off of the Californian coast for a year, we quickly learn that these inhospitible Islands, where the presence of a few biologists are rythmed by the seasons as explained in the opening quote.

Miranda lives in a world of quiet violence, writing letters she never that can never. arrive to her mother, trying to cauterise a wound from her youth that has seen her wandering the planet taking pictures in dangerous places, never coming closer to solving her internal torments:


I understand now why I first voyaged here. It has taken me all year to come to terms with that choice. Since your death, I have been looking over my shoulder, looking backward. I have been stuck in time. I have been writing letters to you—letters to no one, a body in a cemetery, a woman I knew for only a small part of my life. Hundreds of notes, some sitting in the Dead Letter Office of various cities, others buried and burned and scattered on the wind. I have never once questioned whether writing them was sane or healthy. Now, though, I can see that it was neither. Each letter has been an anchor chain, dragging me back into the past.


The Island itself is full of natural violence amongst the animals, some on a par with violence she has seen in war zones with the act of photography itself described by Abby Geni and practised by Melanie as violence itself:


There is a wonderful violence to the act of photography. The camera is a potent thing, slicing an image away from the landscape and pinning it to a sheet of film. When I choose a segment of horizon to capture, I might as well be an elephant seal hunting an octopus. The shutter clicks. Every boulder, wave, and curl of cloud included in the snapshot is severed irrevocably from what is not included. The frame is as sharp as a knife. The image is ripped from the surface of the world.


Miranda discovers violence herself at the hands of one of the biologists that rapes her leaving her unable to talk about it. Then the rapist is found dead at the bottom of some cliffs and after a police investigation no one is suspected and an accidental death assumed, but the experienced, quiet biologist Galen has been studying the people around him and by analogy realises what has happened:


Galen has had some experience with this phenomenon. The animal mind is one without memory. He has researched it. Most animals are able to recall the short term—the past few seconds or minutes—but anything further back is released from the brain like a balloon on the breeze. Animals retain impressions, rather than stories. They may avoid a dangerous place by instinct. They may shy away from an object that is associated with trauma. But they do not recall specific events. A shark, having devoured a seal, will swim away with a clean conscience, no echo of blood or pain. A gull might kill its own chick in a fit of fury, then mourn when discovering the little body later, unaware of its own guilt, lost in its own forgetting.


No spoiler of course, except inferred, this was a complex, well written parallel study of human and animal life. Well worth the read.


First Published in english as “The Lightkeepers” in 2016, by Counterpoint
Translated into french by Céline Leroy and published as “Farallon Islands” by Actes Sud in 2017

The quotes in French.

Chaque biologiste avait une saison durant laquelle se concentrer sur son domaine de compétence (quand son animal régnait sur les lieux) et celles où il ou elle devait aider ses collègues (quand son animal était absent). L’été, Forest, le spécialiste des requins,était au poste de commandement. Galen et lui lançaient leurs ordres et nous autres nous empressions d’obéir. Mais l’automne avait vu le retour des baleines, et l’hiver laissait place à la saison des phoques qui serait suivie par la saison des oiseaux. Chaque biologiste avait droit à son quart d’heure de gloire. C’était le moment pour Mick de faire des étincelles.

Aujourd’hui, je comprends enfin pourquoi je suis venue jusqu’ici. Il m’a fallu un an pour accepter la raison de ce choix. Depuis ta mort, je passe mon temps à regarder par-dessus mon épaule, à jamais tournée vers le passé. J’ai écrit des lettres — sans autre destinataire qu’un corps dans un cimetière, une femme que je n’ai connue que quelques années. Des centaines de mots dont certaines de mots dont certain prennent la poussière au Bureau des lettres mortes ici et là, d’autres enfouis, brulés ou emportés par le vent. Pas une fois je ne me suis demandé si les écrire était sain ou raisonnable. Maintenant je sais que ça n’était ni l’un ni l’autre. Chaque lettre était une ancre qui me ramenait vers le passé.

L’acte photographique renferme une merveilleuse violence. Ce mécanisme est puissant, qui retranche une image d’un paysage pour la fixer sur un morceau de pellicule. Quand je choisi un segment d’horizon à prendre, je pourrais tout aussi bien être un éléphant de mer en train de chasser un poulpe. L’obturateur émet un déclic. Chaque rocher, vague et volute nuageuse qui entre dans l’image est arraché irrémédiablement à ce qui n’y entre pas. Le cadre est affûté comme un couteau. L’image est arrachée à la face du monde.

Ce phénomène ne lui était pas inconnu. Les animaux n’ont pas de mémoire. Il avait fait des recherches. La plupart des espèces animale n’ont qu’une mémoire à court terme — sur quelques secondes ou minutes — et au-dela. tout leur échappe comme un ballon de baudruche emporté par le vent. Les animaux retiennent des impressions plutôt que des histoires. Leur instinct peut les pousser à eviter un endroit dangereux. Ils peuvent s’éloigner d’un objet associé à un traumatisme. Mais ils n’ont pas de souvenir détaillé des évènements. Un requin qui vient de dévorer un phoque s’éloignera la conscience tranqille, sans souvenir du sang ou de la douleur. Un goéland peut tuer son petit dans un accès de rage puis en faire le deuil après avoir découvert son cadavre, ignorant tout de sa culpabilité, perdu dans son oubli.

Bruno de Strabenrath ‘L’ami impossible’


Right to the end, overwhelmed as he was by so much bad luck, Ligonnès still didn’t give up:  He went  through with, and in a radical manner managed something few people accomplish in their lifetimes; he pushed on the “reset” button. img_0246


This book, my eigth read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, revisits a true life event here in France, the unsolved murder by shotgun of a woman and her four children in their home in Nantes and the dissapearance of their husband and father, Xaviet Dupont de Ligonnès. Bruno de Strabenrath, childhood friend of Ligonnès, has written this book shedding light on his background. De Strabenrath believes, as illustrated in the opening quote, that Ligonnès is still alive and hopes by this book to get him to come forward and to give himself up.

De Strabenrath tells of their schooldays in the 1970’s in the “Royal City”, Versailles, of the rich and not so rich catholic monarchists living their, of their meetings with young girls of their own class and how they were aware of this situation:


I’ll have my Signet ring in a fortnight. I only intended to wear it on rare occasions,  and only amongst people of my class and in society events. Rally evenings or debutant balls, in order to display my pedigree on my finger.


The most interesting part of this book is this desription of this time and place growing up together. De Strabenrath also lets us in on Ligonnès’ family background, of his mother and her catholic sect waiting for the overthrow of the Pope:


My mother receives messages from on high, Xavier told me  half smiling. Since 1964 she has her whims, her MLC (Messages of Love and Compassion) and gathers around herself, both in Versailles and on the island of Bréhat close friends that share  her convictions of theology, esoterism and initiation…..a prayer group if you like.


From the murder on, about halfway through the book, the interest aroused by this insider view of Versailles dies away as the two friends become estranged following De Strabenrath’s car accident leaving him wheelchair bound and Ligonnès’ descent into debt as he first dilapidates his wife’s considerable inheritence and borrows continually from his friends until the end. To my way of thinking nothing new here.

First Published in french as “L’Ami impossible” in 2020, by Gallimard *** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Finalement, accablé par tant de malchances, Ligonnès ne s’avoue pas vaincu: il réalise jusqu’au bout et de façon radicale ce que peu d’hommes accomplissent au cours d’une vie; il appuie sur le bouton “reset”

Je disposerais de ma chevalière dans 15 jours. Je comptais la porter lors des rares occasions, dans le cadre exclusif de mon milieu et de ses mondanités. Les soirées de rallyes ou de bal des débutantes , afin d’afficher au doigt mon pedigree.

Ma mère reçoit des messages de là-haut, me disait Xavier dans un demi-sourire. Depuis 1964, elle a ses lubies, ses MAM (Messages d’Amour et de Miséricorde) et réunit autour d’elle à Versailles et sur l’île de Bréhat des proches qui partagent ses convictions théologiques, ésotériques, initiatiques… Un groupe de prière en somme.

Celia Levi ‘La Tannerie’


Paula summoned Jeanne, it was important. Jeanne was shaken. she was afraid her contract would’t be renewed.img_0247“I’ve done something wrong?” Jeanne asked, Paula smiled. “No, quite the opposite, you’re going to get more work, don’t worry.***


This book, my ninth read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, tells the story of The Tannerie, a local arts centre and its microcosm, representative of much of the Paris area. The story centres around Jeanne, a girl from a farm in brittany, who after her university studies in Rennes decides to move to Paris to try her chance in the big city but finds herself in a precarious situation with consecutive short term contracts, unable to plan ahead or to feel stable, as illustrated by her being called by her boss and thinking only of her contract in the opening quote.

After a difficult start in Paris, Jeanne slowly settles into a routine with the other workers at the Tannerie, gradually making a place for herself:


She worked nearly every day. Fridays she had a few drinks with Marianne, the girls from the ticket office, Xavier and his colleagues, the technicians, Saïd joined them, only talking to the technicians. She felt appreciated, she only occasionally took part in the conversation, she was a good audience, listened and that was enough for her.***


When everyone is away at holiday time, her acting boss, Paula’s colleague, Julien, invites her out for walks or drinks, and she interprets this for maybe more than it is. Julien, who has himself been in Paris for several years comes over to Jeanne as sophisticated, and has relatively reactionary views for someone in junior management in a cultural centre as opposed to some of Jeanne’s friends, themselves in precarious situations and involved in demonstrations in Paris.


Julien hadn’t said anything up till then, he looked serious as he said: No, things aren’t done that way these days. what’s more the unions no longer have control, people aren’t fooled by this show of strength going nowhere. Its become folklore. You’ll see you’ll have forgotten in a few weeks. I know Julien continued, turning towards Jeanne , it’s exhilarating, we think everything’s going to change, there’s shouting in the streets, we count how many we were, we end the day with a smell of smoke, the sound of whistles in our ears, institutional songs, the International, Bella Ciao, Flags with images of Ché, I had my period during my time at Lycée, during the CPE; finishing with a big show. It’s out of date, archaic, you can feel the shadow of ’68 in the background, but in truth it’s the end of the road.***


What happens at the Tannerie when hommeless migrants move in next door? How are Julien’s ideas assimilated by Jeanne? Or What happens when Jeanne’s “extra responsibilities”, young people on work insertion projects, are handed full time contracts at the end of their time training with Jeanne whilst she is kept on temporary contracts? Well if you read to the end you’ll find out. I was only very mildly interested myself.

First Published in french as “La tannerie” in 2021, by Tristram
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Paula convoqua Jeanne, c’était important. Jeanne s’en trouva tout effrayée. Elle avait peur qu’on ne renouvelle pas son contrat.
“J’ai fait quelque chose de mal?” hasarda Jeanne. Paula sourit. “Non, au contraire, tu vas avoir plus de travail, ne t’inquiète pas.”

Elle travaillait presque tous les jours. Le vendredi soir, elle buvait des coups avec Marianne, les filles de la billetterie, Xavier et ses collègues de la technique, Saïd les rejoignait, n’adressait la parole qu’aux techniciens. Elle se sentait appréciée, elle n’intervenait que peu dans les discussions, était bon public, écoutait et cela lui suffisait.

Julien n’avait rien dit jusque-là, il prit un air sérieux: “Non, aujourd’hui ces façons de faire sont dépassées. D’ailleurs les syndicats n’ont plus le pouvoir, les gens ne sont pas dupes de ce bras de fer qui mène nulle part. C’est devenu un folklore. Vous verrez que vous aurez oublié dans quelques semaines. Je sais continua Julien en s’adressant à Marianne, c’est exaltant, on croit que tout va changer, on crie dans la rue, on compte combien on a été. on finit la journée avec une odeur de fumigène, les oreilles pleines de coups de siftlets, de chants institutionalisés, L’Internationale, Bella ciao, les drapeaux du Che, J’ai eu ma période au lycée, pendant le CPE; ça finit par une grande messe. C’est très obsolète, archaïque, c’est le modèle de 68 qui est là en arrière-fond, mais qui en réalité agonise.

Irène Kaufer ‘Dibbouks’


My parents left Poland to ensure me a future, or the hope of a future, saving me from the discrimination and the stones thrown at me of which they themselves were occasionally victims or had witnessed when they were young.
I note that to choose the country of Intifadas in order to avoid stones being thrown is in itself a jewish joke.***


This was the last of the eleven books read this year for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, a short, quick and interesting read, a story of the Shoah and the next generation, the silence of the deported told as a mystery with enough dry humour in contrast to the original events and their sequels to explain the rationalistion of the next generation as illustrated in the opening quote of the narrators parents deciding to leave Poland for Israel.

So when she can no longer ignore the presence of the spirit of her dead sister, a dibbouk, she is persuaded to consult a woman who tells her of this phenomenon and who eventually traces a person living in Montreal that could be her supposed dead half sister whom her father had last seen in 1942 as he and his wife with their child were seperated, he to be taken from camp to camp working, “I could write a Michlin guide to the camps” he used to joke, and eventually surviving, they to be taken to Belzec, a death camp.


My dibbouk particularly liked to show up when we were alone, or rather face to face, her and I, in the evening or early in the morning when I couldn’t sleep…..I’d grown into the habit of talking to her, sometimes with a mock careing attitude: So, did you sleep well? Or other times with a resigned anger: Will you never leave me alone?***


She didn’t understand exactly why in the photos from this person found on social media, there was a recent picture of her own father in the background but decides to go to Montreal to spend time with this woman.


I know that it’s impossible. I’m a rational person, I have no fascination for paranormal phenomenon, I treat myself with real chemicals having guaranteed side effects, I believe neither in paradise nor in resurection. Parallel lives, no, completely out of the question.***


This story of discovery of the wartime experience, of its aftermath and the multiple strands and people, of what had/might have happened is particularly well told, a good choice for our long shortlist.

First Published in french as “Dibbouks” in 2021, by l’Antilope.
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Mes parents ont quitté la Pologne pour m’assurer un avenir ou un espoir d’avenir, me sauvant des discriminations et des jets de pierre dont eux-mêmes avaient parfois été victimes ou témoins dans leur jeunesse. Je note que choisir le pays des Intifadas pour échapper aux jets de pierre est en soi une blague juive.

Je sais que c’est impossible. Je suis une personne rationnelle, je n’ai aucune fascination pour les phénomènes paranormaux, je me soigne qu’avec de bons produits chimiques aux effets secondaires garantis, je ne crois ni au paradis ni à la résurrection. Des vies parallèles, non, c’est tout à fait exclu.

Ma dibbouk aimait particulièrement se manifester dans la solitude, ou plutôt en tête-à tête, elle et moi, le soir ou le matin, très tôt, quand je n’arrivais plus à dormir….J’avais pris l’habitude de lui parler, parfois avec une sollicitude moqueuse: alors, tu as bien dormi? Ou d’autresfois avec colère résignée: tu ne me lâcheras donc jamais?

Britt Benett ‘The Vanishing Half


Sometimes she wondered if Miss Vignes was a separate person altogether. Maybe she wasn’t a mask that Stella put on. Maybe Miss Vignes was already a part of her, as if she had been split in half. She could become whichever woman she decided, whichever side of her face she tilted to the light.


This book, my sixth read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021 is an exploration of  possibilities and of contradictions, a story of  identical twins, the Vignes girls, Stella and  Desiree, born in the late 30s in Mallard. Mallard, a town founded in 1848 by Alphonse Decuir for “men like him, who would never be accpted as white but refused to be treated like negroes. A third place.” Whiteness was held as an ideal and blackness to be avoided, so several generations later the twins could have been “mistaken” for white. The girls, inseparable, at sixteen run away to New Orleans, living together in a black neighbourhood when one day without warning Stella dissapears, faced with the dilema illustrated in the openinq quote, she has decided to “pass over”. And from here on in, the twins diverge into two different lives.

The girls had maybe been closer than twins would normally be, having as young children hidden and watched their father being hung by white men as related by Willie Lee.


Leon couldn’t have written that note—the white men must have been angered over something else and who could understand their rages? Willie Lee heard that the white men were angry that Leon stole their business by underbidding them. But how could you shoot a man for accepting less than what you asked for? “White folks kill you if you want too much, kill you if you want too little.” Willie Lee shook his head, packing tobacco into his pipe. “You gotta follow they rules but they change ’em when they feel. Devilish, you ask me.”


For Stella to survive as “white”, no one must suspect her. She cuts out all contact with the black world, growing into her role as a housewife in the sixties and seventies, living through loneliness and boredom, as her husband Blake says:


“I understand, Stella, I do. You’re lonely. That’s right, isn’t it? You never wanted to move to Los Angeles in the first place and now you’re lonely as all hell. And Kennedy’s getting older. So you probably . . . well, you should take a class or something. Something you’ve always wanted to do. Like learn Italian or make pottery. We’ll find you something good to do, Stel. Don’t worry.”


But what happens with the next generation? Kennedy, her daughter who at the cusp of adulthood has no idea of her mother’s secret.

Remember The Persuaders with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis? Two such different lives. Desiree feels as though a part of her has been cut away when Stella dissappears, she has a child in New Orleans and eventually leaves the man and moves back home to Mallard fourteen years after leaving:


The morning one of the lost twins returned to Mallard, Lou LeBon ran to the diner to break the news, and even now, many years later, everyone remembers the shock of sweaty Lou pushing through the glass doors, chest heaving, neckline darkened with his own effort. The barely awake customers clamored around him, ten or so, although more would lie and say that they’d been there too, if only to pretend that this once, they’d witnessed something truly exciting. In that little farm town, nothing surprising ever happened, not since the Vignes twins had disappeared. But that morning in April 1968, on his way to work, Lou spotted Desiree Vignes walking along Partridge Road, carrying a small leather suitcase. She looked exactly the same as when she’d left at sixteen-still light, her skin the color of sand barely wet. Her hipless body reminding him of a branch caught in a strong breeze. She was hurrying, her head bent, and-Lou paused here, a bit of a showman-she was holding the hand of a girl, eight or so, and black as tar.
“Blueblack,” he said. “Like she flown direct from Africa.”


Years later working in Los Angeles Jude Winston, serving drinks at a rich persons party sees her mother Desiree, but it can’t be, yes coincidence brings her to Stella who refuses to acknowledge her. Eventually then “black as tar” Jude meets Kennedy and a whole new generation in a whole new world, the 80’s, and Kennedy must come to terms with her familly’s story.

I found this a truely fascinating and well written book, and had never heard of “passing over”.

First Published in English as “The Vanishing Half” in 2020 by Dialogue Books
Translated into french by Anne Plantagenet and published as “L’autre moitié de soi” by Autrement in 2020.

The quotes in French.

Parfois, elle se demadait si Mlle Vignes n’était pas une personne à part entière, un double qui avait toujours fait partie d’elle. Elle pouvait être l’une ou l’autre, en fonction du profil qu’elle offrait à la lumière.

Leon ne pouvait pas avoir écrit ce message; la colère des Blancs devait venir d’autre chose, mais pourquoi un telle rage? Willie Lee, le boucher, avait entendu qu’ils reprochaient à Leon de casser les prix et de leur voler leur travail. Mais comment pouvait-on abattre un homme juste parce qu’il acceptait moins que ce qu’on demandait?
“Les Blancs te tuent si t’en veut trop, ils te tuent si t’en veut pas assez, soupira Willie Lee en bourrant sa pipe. T’es censé suivre leurs règles, sauf qu’ils les changent quand ça leur chante. C’est vicelard.”

“Je comprends, Stella. Sincèrement. Tu te sens seule. C’est cela? Tu ne voulais pas partir à Los Angeles et tu sens terriblement seule. Sans parler de Kennedy qui grandit. Alors, tu dois sans doute…Tu sais ce que tu devrais faire? T’inscrire à un cours. Faire quelque chose dont tu as toujours rêvé. Apprendre l’italien, faire de la poterie, ce que tu veux. on trouvera, Stel. Ne t’inquiète pas.”

Le matin où l’une des jumelles disparues revint à Mallard, Lou LeBon se précipita au diner pour annoncer la nouvelle et, aujourd’hui encore, des années plus tard, tout le monde se souvient du tollé qu’il provoqua lorsqu’il franchit les portes vitrées, en nage, la poitrine palpitante et le cou assombri par l’effort. Les clients mal réveillés braillaient autour de lui — une dizaine, même si, par la suite, ils seraient plus nombreux à prétendre avoir été présents, ne serait-ce que pour pouvoir dire qu’ils avaient été, au moins une fois dans leur vie, témoins d’un événement vraiment excitant. Dans cette petite localité rurale, il ne se passait jamais rien qui sortait de l’ordinaire. Le dernier fait notable était justement la disparition des jumelles Vignes, et ça remontait à plus de quinze an. Ce matin d’avril 1968, donc, comme il se rendait au travail, Lou avait aperçu Desiree Vignes qui marchait le long de Partridge Road, une petite valise de cuir à la main. Elle était la même que lorsqu’elle était partie à seize ans: le teint clair, couleur sable légèrement humide. Avec son corps sans hanches, elle lui faisait penser à une branche battue par un vent violent. Elle se hâtait, la tête courbée, et — ménageant son effet, Lou marqua une pause à cet endroit — elle tenait la menotte d’une fille de sept ou huit ans, noir comme le goudron.
“Noir-bleu, précisa-t-il. On aurait dit qu’elle débarquait d’Afrique.”