Pierre Lemaitre ‘Au revoir là-haut’

Changing genre is no mean feat as recently J K Rowling has shown, here Pierre Lemaitre successfully obtains France’s most prestigious literary prize the ‘Prix Goncourt’ at his first attempt.


Pierre Lemaitre has seven crime thrillers of renown published here in France of which his early trilogy based on the detective Camille Verhoeven, which are already translated into English by Frank Wynne and published by MacLehose Press

I read parts of the book and listened to the whole audio book , which is written in such a way as to suggest an oral story with the narrator cutting in from time to time to give comments, pushing Lemaitre to read the audiobook himself.

‘Au revoir là-haut’ was published at the end of 2013 and coincides with the centenary of the first world war. The book covers the end of the trench warfare and deals with:

-The feeling of the French soldiers, “Those that thought the war would be over soon are all long dead. Killed by the war. So Albert was pretty sceptical when rumours of an armistice started circulating in October. He took no more notice than he had of the initial propaganda which explained, for instance, that the German bullets were so soft that they just squashed up against their uniforms like over ripe pears, causing great laughter amongst the ranks. In the last four years Albert had seen a stack of soldiers laugh themselves to death after being hit by a German bullet.”***

-The mixing of the well to do upper classes with the poor working classes (officers and soldiers), “The officer stared at him, gave a sigh of discouragement and slapped him in the face. Albert instinctively protected himself. Pradelle smiled a wide smile that said it all… When he pronounced his name, Maillard, he insisted on his unpleasant way of pronouncing the last syllable making it sound worthless, full of scorn as if Maillard meant dog shit or something of the like.”***

-The severely facially disfigured soldiers seen for the first time in warfare (‘les gueules cassées’ in French) and the use of drugs such as morphine and heroin at the time during the war for injuries and on the black market post war.

-Then finally two enormous swindles one of which according to Lemaitre is based on a true story, up to you to guess which one of the two.

The three main protagonists are linked by dramatic events which take place in the last days of the war contrasting utter self interest in one character to pure altruism in the second character, both stemming from wealthy backgrounds. The third character from a working class background becomes a pawn in the future of these two eventual swindlers, taking an active part in one of the schemes.

Two of the most remarkable sights during a visit to France for anyone interested in the First World War are the huge military cemeteries spread over a large part of North Eastern France and the various war memorials to be found in every town or village in France, the least generous of which that I have seen and is referenced in the book is of a cockerel standing on and scratching a German army helmet. These two sights are the subject matter for the swindles.

The last one hundred years has caused such change in social relationships that, realising this is a thoroughly believable set of situations, I, whose life has spanned more than half of this time, still need to ask is it possible people related to each other in such a way?

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The Great Swindle: First published in French by Albin Michel as ‘Au revoir la-haut’ in 2013
Translated into English by Frank Wynne and to be published by MacLehose Press in November 2015
***Book read in French, my translation with excuses to Frank Wynne


Fabio Genovesi ‘ Live Bait’

I discovered Fabio Genovesi when his ‘Chi Manda les Ondes’ was long listed for the 2015 Strega prize, his previous book has recently been translated into English as ‘Live Bait’ helping me with my weak knowledge of contemporary Italian writers (few other nominees have translated works). image The style of the book is a young, dual narrator, high energy, present tense approach, this brings to my mind both ‘The Long Firm’ and ‘La Rue des Boutiques Obscures’. The story is set in the Tuscany that we as visitors never see, Muglione, a village off the beaten track, surrounded by smelly irrigation ditches. There are three main characters: Fiorenzo the 18 year old centre point, who despite serious setbacks (losing both his hand and his mother before the book really gets going) is a lively eternal optimist whose belief is in life it’s better to have lots of dreams because it works like bingo cards: the more you have, the better your chances of winning. Tiziana, who had left Muglione to study successfully in Munich and who has accepted a job back in this godforsaken village and is, in contrast to Fiorenzo, a self doubter but shares with him a spontaneous side. Mirko, the little champ a fourteen year old cycling phenomenon that could one day put Muglione on the map. This is a story full of secondary characters and local colour, I laughed out loud at some of the situations, Tiziana’s friend, Raffaella, in the chapter All Tigers Are Lesbians had me in stitches The ups and downs of life in a small village taking in the complicated relationships between the main characters gives here a true off beat comedy I was glad to read and am looking forward to the translation of ‘Chi Manda les Ondes’ I enjoyed this book

Live Bait: First published as Esche Vive by Mondadori in 2011
Translated into English by Michael F Moore and publish by Other Press in 2014
Translated into French by Dominique Vittoz as Appâts Vivants and published by Fayard in 2012

Bernhard Schlink ‘The Weekend’

Christiane organises a week-end in the country with old friends for her brother Jörg this, however, is no ordinary week-end, her brother Jörg is one of the last of the RAF terrorists detained in German jails and freed by presidential decree after 20 years.
The old friends are of course just that! Since their university days of fashionable contention of state and society, they have all prospered within that society.

image Read on

Preview of the start to the French Literary Season

In France the Literary season begins with the ‘Rentrée Littéraire’, The start of the Literary year which coincides with the start of the school year, the end of August start of September. In France in this short timeframe about 650 books are published, some float and many sink. Lire Magazine gives excerpts from the most awaited titles, meaning of course established writers


Three of my favourite French writers, Sorj Chalondon, Yasmina Khadra and Mathias Énard are present and I will give you an all too brief taster of their books from the excerpts I have read
Tell me more

José Carlos Llop ‘The Stein Report’

Having entered Spanish Literature into my WordPress reader, I came across the Spanish Lit month 2015. In for a Peseta in for a Pound I thought so here we go.
I chose the Stein Report, this medium length book drew me in so that I read it through in one go!


Read On

Mirko Bonné ‘Night No More’

Mirko Bonné’s latest book ‘Nie Mehr Nacht’ has not yet been translated into either English or French, so I read slowly in German. What a wonderful book! Shorttlisted for the German Book Prize, the translation rites are still available. image This book is about Markus and his sister Ira, who when young were afraid of the dark and as adults face the dark in two different ways, she ending it in suicide and he prolonging it in life. Tell me more

Daniel Kehlmann ‘Measuring the World’

My knowledge of current day German authors and their works needs some freshing up, so as I was
thinking about Julie Zeh’s novel  Decompression, I was looking at German authors and thought of Daniel Kehlmann,  a literary phenomenon in the German speaking world, his novel ‘Measuring the World’  has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold 3 million copies in Germany alone. I decided, then, to read this work next.

The cover shown here is from the French edition.

image Tell me more