Eric Vuillard ‘Une sortie honorable’


This may seem odd, but there had never been a french settler established in Cao Bang, no district, european social life, not a single enterprising trader, not a single hotel owner in search of adventure, not a single person to pave the way, no one…..The Cao Bang Mining Company was created in 1905; and in order to function only needed a few european engineers and foremen, that’s all, and a military outpost to protect themselves.***


This book, my first read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2022, is written by Eric Vuillard, the 2017 winner of the prix Goncourt for ‘L’ordre du jour’ which took us to a secret meeting in the Reichstag leading to the financing of the 1933 elections and the petty negotiations between the different people present setting history on its unstoppable path to war. Here Vuillard takes us to an initial meeting in the National Assembly and the inevitable consequences of greed, leading to war in South East Asia. What are the french interests in Indochina? As he explains illustrated here in the opening quotes, it was not a question of a colony and the difficulties of communities living alongside one another, in both Cao Bang where the initial battles took place up to Diên Biên Phu where the french army was defeated, there were no settlers.

Vuillard takes us to a debate over the Indochina ‘situation’ in the house and through descriptions of the different political actors arguing to support the venality of the business interests, and of Mendès-France spelling out in detail that France had neither the means nor the real will to keep Indochina at all costs, he swiftly gives us a panoramic view of the political situation. Mendès, and the truth of course, are not welcomed in the assembly.


The truth” continued Mendès, his face showing no emotion, almost sad, “in a moment where so many other worries weigh on us, we do not have the means to impose the military solution that we have pursued for so long now in Indochina****


Vuillard takes us through the inevitable failures and the gross incomptence of the military commanders appointed by Paris, leading to a modern military power being overcome by peasants. He also introduces the American connection, including De Lattre de Tassigny’s visit to the US and the loaded questions prepared for him.


“Can you tell us why Indochina Is important for we Americans?”
As usual, the question seems abrupt, but in reality it is made to measure. It would seem to have been written by the Army communication department. And in spite of this De Lattre gets bogged down, he can’t find his words. At this moment any word will do, any tiny forgotten word, even a spasm, a sigh…….Then, as if appearing from below the waterline, the General takes a deep breath and adds “that Indochina is the keystone of South-East asia and that this keystone is surrounded….”.****


The description of the CIA and in Particular Dulles’s visit to Paris should leave the reader speechless:


Bidault opens the door without knocking, crosses the room, tripping on the carpet, and sitting on a chair opposite the secretary of state, seemingly overwhelmed: “do you know what Dulles just said to me?” Schumann looks looks at him confused: ” He offered me two atomic bombs to save Diên Biên Phu”****


A strong start to the 2022 prix de Rochefort, and for anyone unfamiliar with these events in history a must read moment!

First Published in french as “Une sortie honorable” in 2021, by Babel

The quotes as read in French before translation

Cela peut sembler curieux, mais il n’y a même jamais eu, un colon français établi à Cao Bang, nul quartier, nul vie sociale européenne, pas un commerçant entreprenant, pas un hôtelier aventureux, pas un seul premier de cordée, personne……La société des mines de Cao Bang avait vu le jour en 1905; et pour fonctionner, elle n’avait besoin que de quelques ingénieurs, de contremaîtres européens, c’est tout, et pour se protéger, il lui fallait un poste militaire.

“La vérité, reprit Mendès, le visage clos, presque triste, “dans un moment où tant d’autres soucis nous accablent c’est que nous n’avons pas les moyens matériels d’imposer en Indochine la solution militaire que nous y avons poursuivie si longtemps.”

“Pouvez-vous nous dire maintenant quelle est l’importance de l’Indochine pour nous Américains?”
Comme d’habitude, la question a quelque chose d’abrupt, mais en réalité elle est faite sur mesure. On dirait qu’elle a été rédigée par le service de communication de l’armée. Et pourtant de Lattre s’embourbe, il cherche ses mots. À ce moment, n’importe quel mot ferait l’affaire, un tout petit mot oublié, un spasme même, un soupir….Alors, comme s’il jaillissait brusquement hors de l’eau, le général reprend sa respiration et ajoute “que l’Indochine est la clé de voûte du Sud-Est asiatique, et que cette clé de voûte est encerclée…”

Bidault ouvre la porte sans frapper, traverse la pièce, trébuchant sur le tapis, et s’asseyant sur une simple chaise face à secrétaire d’État, l’air accablé, bredouille: “Savez-vous ce que Dulles m’a dit?” Schumann le regarde, désorienté: “Il m’a proposé deux bombes atomiques pour sauver Diên Biên Phu”

Benoît Vitkine ‘The Wolves’


Faithfully. Once again he takes the blue textbook in his large hands, places it on the embers where it instantly bursts into flames. He films it. Faithfully. He sends the video to the number he’d been given.
He had just saved the Bitch once again. Just as she’d asked him. The textbook, the old lady that implicated her. No longer existed.***


Benoît Vitkine’s timely novel introduces us to a gloves off version of The Ukraine in this political thriller treating the 30 days between the election of the new president Olena Hapco and her taking office. Vitkine tells us of how fortunes were made in the post Soviet era, here in The Ukraine, but the same recipe applied to any of the ex-Soviet states. Hapco was less ready as the Soviet system collapsed and so needed to be quick, brutal and know how to make allies and deal with enemies.

Hapco is elected on a reform ticket, but pretty soon it’s clear that she needs to negotiate with the Oligarchs, as Russia tries to tie her down, described in her meeting with the Russian ambassador. First she has a call with Vladimir Putin who speaks in riddles, as usual, leaving the unpleasant messages to his underlings, with the ambassador explaining how they will trap and control her. They have been spying on her for decades, including choices she had made, to avoid being crushed, that could be viewed as treason. She knows that they have the means, via the tv stations of certain Oligarchs controlled by the Kremlin , to make it known, before they tell her what they expect her to do:


You can be reassured, the project that we have prepared is perfectly favourable to you! Our idea is to revalue the terms of the contract for the transit of the gas that we sell to the Europeans. In simpler terms, to increase your dividends from the transit of the gas in the pipelines that crosses your territory ……The increase in tarifs for the transport of russian gas in ukranian pipelines, as seductive as it sounds, is an illusion. The money will only make a handfull of crooked, kremlin controlled intermediaries rich, creating as many russian agents in ukranian affairs.****


But if there is one thing Hapco has learnt the best form of defence is to attack. What do the Russians hold against her? Can she neutralise the threat? Can she play the Oligarchs against each other? Can she get out of the trap that is set for her before she officially takes office? These are the questions that Vitkine, one time correspondant of’Le Monde’ in Moscow and laureat of the Albert Londres prize, takes us through whilst at the same time painting a vivid picture of The Ukraine and its people.

First Published in french as “Les Loups” in 2022, by Les Equinox
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Fidèlement. Il reprend le cahier bleu dans ses grands mains, le dépose sur les braises, où il s’enflamme instantanément. Il filme. Fidèlement. Il envoie la vidéo au numéro qu’on lui a indiqué.
Il vient de sauver la Chienne, une nouvelle fois. Comme ell le lui avait demandé. Le cahier, la vieille l’incriminaient. Ils ne sont plus.

Mais rassurez-vous, le projet que nous avons conçu vous êtes parfaitement favourable! Notre idée est de revaloriser les termes du contrat de transit pour le gaz que nous vendons aux européens. En clair d’augmenter les dividendes que vous percevez pour le transit par les tuyaux situés sur votre territoire……L’augmentation des tarifs de transit du gaz russe dans les gazoducs ukrainiens, aussi séduisante soit-elle, est une illusion. L’argent ne servira qu’à enrichir une poignée d’intermédiaires véreux aux ordres du Kremlin, qui constitueront autant d’agents de la Russie dans les affaires ukrainiennes.

Tierno Monénembo ‘Le terroriste noir’


The Valdenaires were the first ones to set eyes on him, Mister—the father and his son—it was the time of year when meadow saffron blooms! They were out gathering golden chanterelles when suddenly the son let out a yelp, surprised by what sounded like an animal having its throat cut. He closed his eyes and pointed at a dark and disturbing heap sprawled in a thicket of whitebeams, where the earth seemed a bit less muddy. The father started, ran over, large beads of sweat bathing his face, then quickly regained his composure. “Calm down, Etienne, it’s only some poor black man.” “A German spy, then!” “The Germans haven’t got any more Negroes, and that’s what started this war…. Come along, son!”


A now old lady, Germaine, tells the story of the african troops who fought in the second world war for France through the story of one such, Addi Bâ who, after having been abandoned as France signed the armistice and escaping from a German camp was discovered by Étienne in a thicket of white-beams in a small village in the Lorraine, as described in the opening quote. We learn of the difficult cohabitation of the locals with the Germans who take nearly all of their produce leaving them hungry, and their reaction as hinted at in the following quote which refers to the saint Bartholomew pig feast, a reference to the slaughter of the saint Bartholomew, a famous massacre of Protestants in Paris in 1572, meaning of course here that they slaughtered all of the pigs to prevent the Germans getting them:


As for young Etienne, I might have seen him once or twice trotting around with a bunch of other kids who would pass through here heading up to the hilltops to gather chestnuts. I wouldn’t really meet him until the Saint Bartholomew Pig Feast.***


Slowly Addi gets to know everyone in the villages and local countrside, before becoming a key element in looking after and training the young men in the “maquis” and then eventually being betrayed to the Germans, by who? we never find out, too many possibilities:


It reminded us of the time he fell from his bike, sir, because he was near death and everyone in Romaincourt was wathching, inspite of the dogs, inspite of the hostility of the Jerrys who were striking out with their rifle butts and jabbering on, excitedly as we’d never seen before: –Der schwarze Terrorist! Der schwarze Terrorist! The black terrorist! The black terrorist!***


This was a interesting book treating a major, and forgotten subject of what happened to the colonial troops “les tirailleurs sénégalais” at the armistice, here Addi Bâ who was recognised only in 2003 with the “médaille de la résistance”.

First Published in french as “Le terroriste noir” in 2012, by Le Seuil *** my translation
Translated into English by C. Dickson and published in 2017 as “The black Terrorist” by Diasporic Africa Press

The quote as read in french before translation

Cela nous rappelait la fois où il était tombé du vélo,monsieur, puisqu’il était au bord de la mort et que tout Romaincourt assistait à la scène, malgré les chiens, malgré l’animosité des Boches qui distribuaient des coups de crosse et hachepaillaient, excités comme on ne les avait jamais vus:
–Der schwarze Terrorist! Der schwarze Terrorist! Le terrorisre noir! Le terrorisre noir!

Olivier Bordaçarre ‘Appartement 816’

Quai du Polar 2022: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Book read Number 3

Olivier. Bordaçarre: Appartement 816 (L’Atalante)


I’m 1m71; I weigh roughly 75 kilos; I was born on the 2nd of November 1989 at 7.30 in the morning; I live at number 9 rue Emmanuel-Bronstin; I’m 41 years old; I wear size 41 shoes; my Sanipass number is 1891178283712 33; according to my bill from Ravi, I’ve eaten 81 125 gram tins of tuna (10.12 kgs) and 50 750 gram tins of chick peas (37.5 kgs) since the start of the Total General Isolation. That’s to say one tin of tuna every two days for six and a half months; one tin of chick peas every four days.


Didier Martin, simple accountant seems to be holding it all together, even if he is writing his diary in small print on the wall of his apartment where he lives with his wife Karin, his adolescent son Jérémy and his dog. He had to go through his diary to be sure of the facts, France is entering its 30th straight month of isolation for its inhabitants, the last six months have been IGT, Total General Isolation, that is to say Didier, his family and his dog have not been able to leave their apartment at all for the last six months. The detail in his diary entries concerning himself and his diet illustrated in the opening quote tells us something of the strain he is under and the following quote tells us of how his mind is telling him that isolation is normal, maybe even beneficial to fight against….loneliness.


You have to accept the evidence, living with your times is necessarily living without movement. Without flow we can do everything with a simple internet connection. It’s exactly what is happening with Rezo isn’t it? Aren’t we in touch with our friends, our families? We can see each other, talk to each other, exchange information, help each other get over problems. Thanks to the virus, digital connections have replaced all of our actions from everyday life and saved people from loneliness.***


Food is delivered by drones, which also ensure the rules are followed and waste is evacuated in plastic bags without human intervention. But as you can imagine the situation in a strain on interpersonal relations within the family, his son Jérémy is an asshole, his wife doesn’t always agree with him and his dog pisses and shits on the balcony floor that he has to clean up every time ( why only him you might ask):


I wouldn’t mind making other efforts, write inside our kitchen cupboard doors, for instance, or on the closet walls behind the shoes, but, when I propose something that goes a little in her sense looks at me silently and the walks off. Discussion is impossible. I asked her, then, once and for all (and Im writing it down in black and white today), not to shout any more. She’s free to express herself, she can criticise me as she wishes, I’m not totally opposed to dialogue, but without shouting. Without shouting. Otherwise. It just isn’t possible. We wont be able to carry on like that. The three of us live together in this apartment, we can’t do that without rules.***


Didier does some pretty normal things under the circumstances and evacuates the body parts in the plastic waste bags. At the end of the IGT it would seem that a large number of people in France are “missing”.

A book with a certain humour, the deliveries being taken over by a company named after the largest river in North America, Mississippi, for instance. A more interesting read than I had at first imagined but again this would not be my choice for the winner.

First Published in French as “Appartement 816″ in 2021 by L’Atalante.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Je mesure 1 mètre et 71 centimètres; je pèse 75 kilogrammes environ; je suis né le 2 novembre 1989 à 7 heures 30 minutes; j’habite au numéro 9 de la rue Emmanuel-Bronstin; j’ai 41 ans; je fais du 42 de pointure; mon numéro de SaniPass est le 1891178283712 33; d’après les factures récapitulatives du site Ravi, j’ai mangé 81 boîtes de thon de 125g (10,12 kg) et 50 boîtes de pois chiches de 750g (37,5 kg) depuis le début de l’Isolement Général Total. C’est-à-dire une boîte de thon tous les deux jours pendant six mois et demi une boîte de pois chiches tous les quatre jours.

Il faut forcément se rendre à l’évidence. Vivre avec son temps, c’est vivre désormais sans mouvement. Sans circulation. On peut tout faire grâce à une simple connexion Internet. C’est bien ce qui se passe au niveau de Rezo, non? Est-ce qu’on n’est pas en lien avec ses amis, sa famille? On peut se voir, se parler, échanger des informations, s’aider à surmonter un problème. Grâce au virus, le numérique a pris le relais sur l’ensemble des actions de la vie courante et sauve les gens de leur solitude.

Je veux bien faire d’autres efforts, écrire à l’intérieur des portes des placards de la cuisine, par exemple, ou sur les murs du cagibi derrière les chaussures, mais, quand je fais une proposition qui irait un peu dans son sens, Karine me regarde sans rien dire et elle s’en va. Quand je fais un pas en avant, elle me fauche. Comme elle l’a toujours fait. Elle s’en va. La discussion est impossible. Je lui ai demandé, donc, une bonne fois pour toutes (et je l’écris aujourd’hui noir sur blanc) de ne plus crier. Elle est libre de s’exprimer, peut tout à fait critiquer ce que je fais, je ne suis pas fermé au dialogue, mais sans crier. Sans crier. Sinon, ça ne va pas être possible. On ne va pas pouvoir continuer sur ce ton. On vit à trois dans cet appartement, cela ne peut pas se passer dans ces conditions.

Metin Arditi ‘Le Turquetto’


Stood up, his right hand grasping his cane, the master was unable to tear his eyes away from the canvas. He had before him the most beautiful portrait that had ever been painted. The lines were of an absolute precision. And the colours…. How had he managed to obtain such nuances in the darker colours? There was the young man’s look, the beauty of his age, a charm, but a force as well, a kindness…. He moved forward towards the painting looking for the signature. He couldn’t find it. His eyesight weakened…. He tried again three times and finally found it, in the lower right hand corner, a capital T, painted in dark grey.img_3098
He stepped back from the painting and once more took it in slowly. What he needed to do to save it was shameful. and even obscene. But there was no other solution but this, and he did his duty.***


Welcome to Metin Arditi’s art world, in this work of fiction Arditi begins with a chromographic examination report leaving some doubt as to whether the work, “Man With A Glove” from the Louvre was actually by Titien, leading him to create the character the Turquetto, who had actually painted this work, and why there is no other trace of Turquetto’s work, taking us right up to the terrible decision by Titien himself to add his signature to the painting as illustrated in the opening quote.

The book written in three parts takes us from sixteenth century Constantinople, with its varied population of Turks, Jews, Greeks and Armenians, each with their own religions and very different rights but all having one thing in common, reproducing any of God’s creation is forbidden. Elie a young jewish child who had been brought up in a greek family and who moves easily amongst the Turkish merchants eventually escapes to venice and on the journey takes a Greek name, becoming a christian overnight.

In the second part of the book in Venice, due to heis natural skill but also due to his mixed cultural experience he becomes a painter of great renown, but as he matures, he finds he no longer wants to hide who he really and eventually falls foul of the inquisition, finally escaping and returning to Constantinople where things are becoming more difficult for the Greeks and the Jews.

This is a fascinating story as Arditi draws us a picture of the sixteenth century world and the inability of the different people to live with each other, any resemblance with what is happening around us today is purely coincidental!

First Published in French as “Le Turquetto” in 2011 by Actes Sud
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Debout, la main droite agrippée à sa canne, le maitre n’arrivait pas à détacher ses yeux de la toile. il avait devant lui le plus beau portrait qui ait jamais été peint. Un trait d’une précision absolue. Et des couleurs… Comment avait-il réussi à obtenir de telles nuances dans les sombres? Il y avait dans le regard du jeune homme la beauté de son âge, un charme, mais aussi une force, une bonté….
Il s’approcha du tableau et chercha la signature. Il ne la trouva pas. Ses yeux déclinaient…. Il s’y reprit à trois fois et fini par la répérer, au coin inférieur droit, un T majuscule, peint en gris foncé.
Il s’éloigna de la toile et une fois encore la regarda longuement. Ce qu’il devait faire pour la sauver était indigne. Et même obscène. Mais il n’y avait d’autre solution que celle-là, et il fit son devoir.

Antoine Bello ‘The Falsifiers’


“What was the plan? asked Magawati dryly.
“The plan was to, one hour exactly before the Sputnik 2 launch, send a press release from TASS to around fifty media outlets announcing that the satellite had onboard a two year old dog called Laïka.”
“Even though the satellite was empty?” asked Youssef, in disbelief.
“Even though the satellite was empty,” repeated Vargas, “What happened?”
***


After a hectic month of November, reading for the Roman de Rochefort and for the Booker Prize, I was having trouble getting back in the saddle so, off to the library and after twenty minutes with Véronique, “I need something easy to read with a certain intrigue”. Away I came with the first of this trilogy by Antoine Bello and, shame on me, I’d never heard of him. He may well be an American author who writes in French, but his main protagonist here is Icelandic, Sliv Dartunghuvet. Sliv, fresh from university is easily recruited by an environmental research company, one of many fronts for a tentacular organisation, the CFR (Consortium de Falsification du Réel). Sliv asks some questions but faced with an absence of answers from his recruiting agent, Gunnar, he turns out to be a trusting fellow:


And what can be said about the motives of CFR? Gunnar talked away normally, without ever revealing anything of importance. Three conversations later, and I had no more idea than the first day. Why did the CFR falsify reality? With what money and on behalf of who?***


Sliv soon learns of some of the older cases the CFR has worked on such as Laïca from the opening quote who never actually existed. Sliv is pulled into the ludic side of the job, working on scenarios that, after examination and correction, the organisation may decide to put into action.

Sliv turns out to be an exceptional creator of scenarios and begins to take more and more risks until he puts the organisations existance at risk and has the unfortunate experience of meeting the Special Ops.

This was a really good book to get back to reading, this first book of the series was written back in 2007 and treats the pre-internet falsification of reality as Dartunghuvet climbs the lower levels of the CFR, waiting to see how the later books take on the whole fake news thing.

First Published in french as “Les falsificateurs” in 2007, by Gallimard *** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

—Quel était le plan? demanda Magawati d’une voix sèche.
—Le plan consistait, une heure exactement après le lancement de Spoutnik 2, à envoyer un communiqué de l’agence Tass à une cinquantaine de rédactions annonçant que le satelite emportait à son bord une chienne de deux ans du nom de Laïka.
—Alors que le satellite était vide? demanda Youssef, incredule.
—Alors que le satellite était vide, répéta Vargas. Que se passa-t-il?

Et que dire des mobiles du CFR? Gunnar discourait habituelement, sans jamais rien révéler d’important. Trois conversations plus tard, j’en savais à peine plus qu’au premier jour. Pourquoi le CFR falsifiait-il le réel? Avec quel argent et pour le copte de qui?

Hervé Le Tellier ‘Toutes les familles heureuses’


It was at roughly the same age that, during a digression in an adult conversation that my mother had had an abortion a few years before in Switzerland..my mother…explained to me several times: she had done it “for me” . Guy would of course have grown attached to “his child” and neglected me, or even grown to dislike me. I found out, thanks to her, that I was responsible for the death of a little brother or sister and that I couldn’t trust dad.***


Hervé Le Tellier, The 2020 Prix Goncourt, tells us in this his 2017 book of his background, of his un-loving un-caring family that he knew he needed to flee, even from a young age to survive, unlike Sarah Chiche this is no psychoanalysis although his mother lies at the centre of the story and her relationship with firstly his always absent father who didn’t give him his name and his stepfather, who had never wanted him. An example of his mother’s lack of consequence is given in the opening quote.

Now that all of the protagonists of the book are dead, except for his mother, suffering from Altzheimer’s, He delivers this compact story on the unhappiness of his family, rendered possible by not facing the facts:


I understood quite quickly that you couldn’t believe anything my mother said. It’s not that she particularly liked lying, it’s just that admitting the truth was too much for her.***


A short, personal well written book which I enjoyed.

First Published in French as “Toutes le familles heureuses” by JC Lattès in 2017
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

C’est à peu près au même âge que j’appris, au détour d’un conversation d’adultes, que ma mère avait avorté quelques années plus tôt en Suisse….ma mère…me l’expliqua bien plusieurs fois: elle l’avait fait “pour moi”. Guy se serait évidemment attaché à “son enfant” et il m’aurait délaissé, voir pris en grippe. Je sus ainsi grâce à elle que j’étais responsable de la mort d’un petit frère ou d’une petite sœur et qu’il fallait aussi me méfier de papa.

Je compris pourtant vite qu’il était difficile d’accorder le moindre crédit à ce que ma mère racontait. Ce n’était pas qu’elle aimait particulièrement mentir, mais accepter la vérité exigeait trop d’elle.

Sarah Chiche ‘Saturne’




Paris, 19th June 1975

Madame, Miss,…

What can be expected,img_0167-1 you’re beyond redemption. You’ve a dark heart, vicious like a snake disguised as a deer. In despite of whatever my old father may think, that you’ve tricked with your charm as you’ve tricked so many others, me, I can find no excuse for you. No. You’re no more than a mistress in the hands of a boy who’ll never be a man. I’m Harry’s brother. And in the name of my family, of the state in which you’ve left my brother, I swear to you: you will never be a part of our family. We will never welcome you again: not tomorrow, nor thereafter.

AC***


Sarah Chiche’s “The Obscure” was a book that spoke of her maternal family and the strains linked to the Shoah, Sarah is a Psychoanalyst and this book treats the point of encounter between her father’s family, partially imagined as she was not born for most of it and her own life, which she analyses here.

Sarah Chiche’s father’s family had built up a prosperous clinic in Algeria before the war of independence and were forced to flee with nothing, nothing is of course relative and her grandfather was able to build up a very lucrative clinic business in France. During these early years, the two sons, Harry, Sarah’s father and his older brother, Armand her uncle, were sent away to boarding school together. Already at this young age their characters are there to be seen. Armand full of drive, a success in company and Harry a dreamer.

The family was turned in on itself following their uprooting, the sons would inherit the father’s clinics and all would be well, but then Harry met Eve, herself trying to survive a complicated family situation, with little or no money and making men pay for her situation. Harry is totally in love with her but when his brother finds out Eve is not particularly faithful to his brother he takes things into his own hands and sends her the letter of the opening quote.

Soon after, Eve and Harry marry in private and when Eve is just 15 months old, in 1974, the year of the launch of Voyager, her father dies of leukemia. And so begins the second part of the book, how, are these events re-woken twenty six years later causing her breakdown. Sarah has cut of her ties with her paternal family (soured by her mother’s stories of them) and with her mother when her grandmother dies, causing her to question events:


Later, I was told that he went without suffering. I was told that he wanted to go. I was told that he was happy. When I found the strength to press for details, I was finally told that it happened like this: he fought to breathe. He was choking. He choked. It was an awful noise. ***


Sarah, fragile, is discovered living alone in a frightening state, unable to come to terms with the grief of her father’s death from all that time ago. And to be saved by the very people she no longer wanted to see:


The whiteness of the clinics where the mother, terrorised by what had happened to her own mother, begged them not to lock up her child. The negotiations for home care. The torture of guilt looking around at the habitual horror of the furniture. The shame of becoming dependent on this mother, this step-father from which she had tried to escape and who now are the only ones she can count on. ***


An introspective book, which has had a certain success, I wouldn’t go out of my way to read it.

First Published in French as “Saturne” by Sarah Chiche and published by Le Seuil in 2020
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Paris, le 19 juin 1975

Madame, Mademoiselle,…!!!
Que voulez-vous, vous êtes irrécupérable. Vous avez l’âme noire, vicieuse, d’un serpent peinturluré en biche. Quoi que puisse en penser mon vieux père, que vous avez berner par vos charmes, comme vous en berner tanr d’autres, moi, je ne vous trouve aucune excuse. non. Vous n’êtes qu’une concubine entre les mains d’un garçon qui ne sera jamais un homme. Je suis le frère de Harry. Et au nom des miens, au nom de l’état dans lequel vous avez mis mon frère, fe vous le jure: vous ne ferez jamais partie de notre famille. Nous ne vous recevrons plus: ni demain, ni les autres jours.

AC

plus tard, on m’a dit qu’il était parti sans souffrir. On m’a dit qu’il le voulait. on m’a dit qu’il était heureux. Quand j’ai trouvé la force de demander des précisions, on a fini par me dire que cela s’était passé à peu près ainsi: il luttait pour respirer. Il s’étouffa. Il étouffait. c’était un bruit abominable.

La blancheur des cliniques où la mère, terrorisée par ce qui est arrivé à sa propre mère, supplie qu’on n’enferme pas son enfant. La negotiation pour les soins à domicile. La torture de la culpabilité quand on contemple autour de soi l’horreur familière des meubles. La honte d’être redevenue dépendante de cette mère et de ce beau-père qu’on avait voulu fuir et qui sont désormais les seuls sur qui compter.

Alice Zeniter ‘Comme un empire dans un empire’


Traders now buy zero-days on the market and companies sell them on, all in total secrecy. As Antoine didn’t understand the word, L explained that a zero-day was an error in a program that nobody had yet found and for which as a consequence, there was no patch…..to sum up, said L, capitalism has taken over coding.***


Alice Zeniter’s latest novel covers the world of today through two protagonists whose lives meet and their meeting then transform them. The first is Antoine, a backroom boy and speech writer for a socialist member of parliament in these post-socialist days where the Socialist Party no longer represents even a moderate portion of the electorate and Antoine, all too aware of this, just doesn’t know what to do:


The party is a dead animal in whose stomach you can still shelter but it is now beginning to smell and to become cold. It makes no sense to spend your whole life within it today. That way of shaping politics is dead and I know no other. I don’t know what to do.***


And L, who lived through the early period of the internet hackers, was part of Anonymous and saw the system fight back, break some and then jail the leaders. L lives in two worlds, the Within and the Flesh-world; she prefers the Within, the virtual. The experience with the Anons and the constant fear has kept her from attacking large corporate entities but she has her enemies, the people she defends others against, the abusers of women. When her live in boyfriend/hacker is arrested early one morning, for attacking a large corporate entity her world starts to fall apart.

L begins to see people following her. Are these people linked to her Elias her boyfriend or to the women haters she has been fighting for her female customers, or is it all in her head? She no longer knows. Antoine, whom she has met at a party she did not mean to attend, decides to save her and arranges for her to leave Paris and live with a friend of his in a sort of commune in a caravan with other missfits behind the friend’s farmhouse in Brittany. So opens a phase of renewal, an appreciation of the world around her, the Flesh-world she despises up to this point.

Who do these two people become, does L leave her previous life, or at least put it in perspective, become less paranoid? Does Antoine continue to work for an ideal, a party, an elected representative of the people he no longer believes in? Or does their meeting make them both better, stronger? Do you believe in fairy tails? Well read this book. As usual Zeniter doesn’t dissapoint.

First Published in French as “Comme un empire dans un empire” in 2020 by Flammarion.*** My translation

Des courtiers achetaient désormais à la bourse des zero-days et des firmes les revendaient, le tout dans le plus grand secret. Comme Antoine ne comprenait pas le mot, L expliqua qu’un zero-day était un défaut dans un logiciel que personne n’avait encore décelé et pour lequel, par conséquent, il n’existait aucun correctif……Pour résumer, dit L, le capitalisme s’était emparé du codage.

Le parti est un animal crevé dans le ventre duquel on s’abrite encore mais ça commence à puer et à refroidir. Ça n’a plus aucun sens de passer une vie entière à l’intérieur aujourd’hui. Cette façon de faire de la politique est morte et je n’en connais pas d’autre. Je ne sais pas quoi faire.

Gabrielle Massat ‘The Taste of My Mother’s Lipstick’

Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 3

Gabrielle Massat: Le goût du rouge à lèvre de ma mère (Éditions DU MASQUE)


Are you sure you want to come in? I asked as my dog barked a second time.
The two cops hesitated. Then the woman decided, sounding as smooth as chilli on your privates:
Either that or we’re taking you in.
You don’t have the right.
With a suspect in a murder case we have all the rights. Let us come in.
I tied Angus to the cupboard door dodging his efforts to lick me. He wined tragically.
Oh, I said, I didn’t kill anyone.
Jones, he’s blind, she sounded put out when she realised.
It can’t be him, how could he have managed a perfect intravenous injection? Hell we’ve just driven 800 kilometres to arrest a suspect and he’s blind!***


In this third book read for the readers’ Gabrielle Massat takes us to San Francisco and to a world she has created around organised prostitution. Cyrus, who has been living from petty crime in San Diego, has his own routines with a private trainer and friends is unexpectedly visited at home by the police of the SFPD at his home as illustrated in the opening paragraph. Yes they quickly learn that their suspect Cyrus Colfer is blind and he learns that the murdered man, Earl Montgomery had been looking for him.

Thus begins the story as Cyrus moves back to San Francisco to try to learn what Montgomery had wanted to tell him about his mother’s death years earlier as he was still a child, that lead to his leaving San Francisco. Cyrus often unerestimated as a blind man, visits old members of the Clan that had employed his mother to try to solve the mystery of her death all those years before. He walks a thin line between working with the police and gaining the partial trust of the prostitution ring.

This was a long book, and pretty improbable, setting it in San Francisco seems to me to be an over complication, not one of my favourites for the prize.

First Published in French as “Le goût du rouge à lèvre de ma mère” in 2020 by Éditions DU MASQUE.
*** My translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Vous êtes vraiment sûrs de vouloir entrer? tentai-je alors que mon chien se fendait d’un second aboiement.
Les deux flics hésitèrent. Puis la femme trancha, d’un ton à peu près aussi agréable que du piment sur des parties génitales……
C’est ça ou on vous embarque.
Vous n’avez pas le droit.
Face à un suspect dans une affaire de meurtre, on a plein de droits. Laissez-nous entrer.
J’attachai Angus à la porte d’un placard en évitant ses coups de langue. Il lâcha un gémissement tragique.
Oh, fis-je, et je n’ai tué personne.
Jones, il est aveugle. La femme paraissait excédée par le constat.
Ça ne peut pas être lui, comment aurait-il pu réaliser une intraveineuse aussi parfaite? Bon sang, on vient de se taper huit cents kilomètres pour appréhender un suspect et il est aveugle!