Bérangère Cournut ‘Née Contente À Oraibi’


—I was told, in order to make me a daughter of her clan and because I peed on her the first time she took me in her arms, an aunt called me at first Honawpaahu, Bear-who-sprays-like-a-fountain. IMG_1292Then as on that day I laughed with my mouth wide open, another baptised me Tatatitaawa, She-who-greets-the-sun-with-a-smile……In the following weeks, I ceased peeing on people, wrapped tight in my willow cot like all new borns….which is why I remained Tatatitaawa.***


Born Happy At Oraibi: This is the story of a young American Indian girl, a Hopi, a people who live in the Arazona desert, a people who scrape out a living in this inhospitable area and we are plunged into her life and, through it, the Hopi’s complex belief system, so thoroughly linked to their surroundings and the natural world.

The Hopis live in this arid desert, so hot in the summer and so cold in the winter, dépendant on the meagre harvest for survival, we are with Tatatitaawa, of the butterfly clan, as she grows up in this happy but small community in Oraibi at the third Mesa with at the centre Itangu, the oldest woman of the clan. We are with her as she changes her name at key stages of her life.

We hear of Soyal, when her father and the other men leave their house when the days are shortest and the nights are longest in order pray with the priests and .to call back the sun and of Lakon when the women fast at the end of the cycle in November to pray for rain. We hear of her father who sometimes roared like thunder in the house, but as her mother says, who would complain at the sky for thundering before it delivers us water.

Besides the stories of Hopi celebrations and prayers, births and deaths, we discover Walpi on the first Mesa where Tatatitaawa’s father’s clan, the Grey Bear come from and of the quarrel between her grandmother and her grandmother’s sister of the Black Bear tribe who she believes to be a two-heart who has stolen and given birth to her nborn child.

This is a book with succeeds in giving the reader a glimpse of the Hopi culture and helps the reader to begin to feel its rhythm.

First published in French as ‘Née Contente à Oraibi’ by Le Tripode in 2016
*** My translation

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Thierry Dancourt ‘Les Ombres De Marge Finaly’


—The Yvelines is still wrapped in night, and despite this, she notices as well that the sky is almost blue. She closes her eyes, raising her face towards the star studded sky, IMG_1290thinking to herself that each and every day over the last few weeks, the snow has been burying Plaisance Gardens, the garden, the pool, the villa and with it the portrait of the young woman with the blue eyes, so completely that for the present one no longer hears of these things.
The star light from another age falls on Marges eyes. It’s what gives them their grey colour, grey with a hint of blue, on that night.***


Thierry Dancourt’s latest book ‘Jeu De Dames’ (probably a play on words, meaning draughts or checkers but also literally a ladies game) has just been published to very good reviews, leaving me wanting to get to know this writer’s work, and so I decided to begin with one of his earlier books, ‘Les Ombres de Marge Finaly’, once again more than one meaning, the shadow that Marge Finaly has left on Pierre Meilhac’s life, as well as maybe the shadowy side to Marge Finaly.

This book begins with a surprise meeting in Paris between Pierre, the main protagonist, and Marge some fifteen years after their last meeting. Dancourt’s beautifully descriptive style takes us back to the end of the sixties where he slowly unravels for us the story of  Marge and her group of friends, none of whom seem to work, and the large but rundown  country property near Paris, Plaisance Gardens, left to Marge after the death of her parents, where they seem to live or at least to meet in order to while away the endless weekends together. The reader can feel the decadence of the moment, from Dancourt’s description of the ‘car pool’ with amongst others the Renault Prairie, shown in the photo, or the Lancia Gamma, or the Pall Malls and Week Ends that Marge and her friends smoke, or his marvellous description of looking into Marges eyes as the snow slowly buries Pleasance Gardens in my opening quote.

Following this chance meeting, Pierre slowly meets Marge’s old friends that she no longer sees in order to better understand what happened in that summer fifteen years earlier, how he had been used and the mixed relationship that Marge had with him, when after the sting, replacing him to get valuable antique papers from his employers private museum, Marge runs away with him, Pierre still did not know why and the disappears for fifteen years. I can’t resist quoting one of Dancourt’s descriptions of Plaisance Gardens to finish:


—The villa came into sight, little by little, white, grey in places…..the roof terrace whose clear line, which whilst underscoring the horizontal rhythms, was interrupted by the volumes of the stairwell, the magestic smokestack of the transatlantic liner that this house, built in 1927, didn’t fail to evoke, yes, but a transatlantic liner cruising on a strange soft, delicate green english ocean, a green but raging sea what’s more, because the depressions in the lawn, sometimes quite deep  especially towards the bottom of the property, plunging into the hollows, slipping from vue, reappearing then disappearing completely once again and so, buffeted, shaken, a nutshell in the swell, it seemed so fragile, so vulnerable, so lost.
Thus I discovered  Plaisance Gardens.***


First published in French as ‘Les Ombres De Marge Finaly’ by La Table Ronde in 2012
*** My translation

Delphine de Vigan ‘Based on a True Story’


Allison Jones:
—I know you weren’t yourself when you did this, Hedy.IMG_1259
Hedra Carlson:
—I know, I was YOU.


In Single White Female Seeks Same, Allison Jones lets Hedy into her life, into a power struggle where Hedy begins to dress and act like Allison and finally tries to entirely possess and replace Allison, we the audience think “why doesn’t she see it coming?”

In ‘Based on a True Story’,  Delphine de Vigan explores the themes of writer’s block, how does a writer move on from a success, and of the importance of truth in fiction in the modern day. The narrator of ‘Based on a True Story’ is called Delphine who has had a success with a book we can identify as de Vigan’s previous novel ‘Nothing Holds Back the Night’, thus set in the real. Through Delphine’s meeting with L a ghost writer she is able to present the arguments and counter arguments for basing fiction in the real, L explains that is what Delphine’s readers expect of her in these days where so much fiction is based on minor true news stories and we learn that in fact Delphine has been considering a subject based around reality television.

Faced with the choices between a fiction based on reality and a pure fiction Delphine is unable to write and as this situation persists L becomes more invasive, slowly building up the tension surrounding her, one day Delphine unearths a previous manuscript of her own and is invited for the first time to a dinner party at L’s where none of the other guests turn up:


L asked me to let her and her alone confidentially, read the unearthed manuscript, I promised.
Back at my place I pulled the curtains shut before turning the lights on, the possibility that L could have conceived and set up the whole masquerade with the single aim of softening me up came to my mind much later, I sat on my sofa and looked around me, I felt a strange feeling of relief and by contrast I suddenly understood what bothered me about L’s apartment: at her’s nothing was worn, yellowing, damaged, not a single object, piece of furniture or textile showed any traces of previous use.***


Soon after, L moves in “temporarily” with the weakened Delphine initially taking over her computer, her communications with the outside world and slowly her life, up to dressing like her and replacing her at literary events thus bringing to mind the initial quote from Single White Female.

The tension builds up to a crecendo when we realise that no one other than Delphine including her family, her partner or her friends have ever seen L. As de Vigan through Delphine then gives us another vision of the events and further argues between the need for fiction to be declared as having a tangible basis or not.

First Published in French as “D’après une histoire vraie” in 2015 by Lattès.
Translated into English by George Miller as “Based on a True Story” and published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2017
***My translation

Philippe Grimbert ‘A Secret’


–Only child, I’d had a brother for a long time. They had to take me at my word when I told this tale to my relations on holiday, to my passing friends.IMG_1136 I had a brother. More handsome, stronger. An older brother, glorious, invisible.***


Fifteen years after his parents suicide, Philippe Grimbert brings us this story of his and his families life told mostly by his young self from the fifties. This family drama was turned into a successful film in France and the book translated into many languages.
Philippe tells us how he grew up in the Paris area with his mother and father, he had health problems and was a weak child so he invented an older brother to give himself courage. His parents were both good looking and athletic and Philippe liked to imagine their youth and how they met.
Philippe, however, was brought up in a family with a secret of which only he was unaware:


–My friend opened one by one new chapters, the events for which I had learnt the details in my history books, the occupation, Vichy, the fate of the Jews, the demarcation line were no longer reduced to bold titles in a school manual, they were suddenly alive, black and white photos that had found their colour. My parents had been through it and were much more marked by this than I had believed. Anna appeared out of the night, Maxime’s first wife.***



The story concerns two major events that in Philippe families case overlapped and interfered. Firstly Philippe’s father Maxime fell passionately in love with his own sister in law Tania, a family drama waiting to burst to the surface and secondly Philippes family was Jewish and Maxime had decided to lead them cross the demarcation line in small groups to flee from their fate and whilst Maxime and Tania arriving separately had reached safety, Anna disillusioned is captured with Simon, Maxime and Anna’s child:


–Try to imagine the feelings of my mother in the light of the news. The enemy from from which she had fled had become an ally brushing aside the only obstacle that stood between her and my father, if Anna and Simon didn’t make it, everything would be possible.***


Could anyone live with the weight of having survived in these circumstances?

First Published in French as “Un Secret” in 2004 by Grasset et Fasquelle
Translated into English by Polly McLean and published by Portobello Books in 2007
*** My Translation

Simonetta Greggio ‘Black Messiah’

 –You’re hilarious you are. You’ll make me laugh to death. You watch too much television, but Italy isn’t the USA: IMG_1120we’re at the back of the class, last in the kingdom of heaven. No DNA database here!***

Simonetta Greggio Italian, writing in French takes us to Tuscany –This kind of thing doesn’t happen, not in Tuscany, on the gentle hills where happy breakfast commercials are shot.*** In this her first crime novel, a number of murders resembling those of thirty years earlier, a true story concerning the monster of Florence, a serial killer who killed seven young couples in their cars whilst they were making love and who was never captured:

–In their torch beams, dozens of insects undulated like the northern lights. The clearing  pulsated with fireflies, but the carabiniers made no move to brush them aside. They stood there still, astounded….The young girl seemed to watch them with her staring eyes. Naked, crucified on a cross in the form of an X,  upright in the middle of the gap, her tortured face looked down on them, arms and legs stretched apart.***

As the book advances and once again young people and couples are targeted, young girls as always are particularly vulnerable. We follow two main characters, Miles, American whose Italian wife died in mysterious circumstances and who has moved to his wife’s country with his daughter Indiana for a new start and Jacopo, an Italian brigadier who was already in the police and on the unresolved case of the monster thirty years earlier, who too has lost his wife and has daughters the age of the victims.

These two characters are on a slow collision course up to the final confrontations in the story. And yes, as the opening quote from the killer leads us to understand, Italy approved its first DNA database in 2016, after the events in this story.

First Published in French as “Black Messie” in 2016 by Stock
*** My Translation

Hannelore Cayre ‘La Daronne’

—I was paid in cash by my employer, The Home Office, who therefore declared no taxes…..its pretty scarey when you think of it, the translators on whom National security depends, IMG_1114the very same that translate the plots hatched by islamists in their cellars and garages, should be clandestine workers with no social security and no pension. Quite frankly there are better ways to ensure incorruptibility.***

Lets get the translation in first, ‘La Daronne’ is French slang for mother, my best equivalent would be the cockney rhyming wersion ‘The finger and thumb’.

Hannelore Cayre whose First  book ‘Commis d’office‘ meaning ‘Duty Counsel’ in English was released as a film in 2009, serves us this time an excellent piece of French Noir centering around Patience Portefeux, a hard working ageing police translator/interpreter with an uncertain future ahead of her, as the initial quote tells us these translators really were paid cash in hand, and how she becomes ‘La Daronne’.

—It was the end of July, the sun was burning up the sky; The Parisians were all heading for the beaches, and I was beginning my new career, Philippe my fiancé and copwas just taking up his new position as head of the drug squad of the 2nd unit of the DPJ…
I was really happy for him, but back then I was still just a simple police Translator/Interpreter and hadn’t yet got one point two tons of hash in my cellar.***

Cayre’s inside knowledge of the judicial process in France gives us little details such as prisoners speaking with the outside world using Playstations to avoid being listened in on, or the description of the dealers with two phones, the bizzness and the halal to avoid being eavesdropped on but being unable to keep their calls segregated and being blown within hours.

I read this book in two sittings, and thoughroughly enjoyed if from start to end, I firmly recommend this book if your French is up to it, if not watch out for or plebiscite a translation.

First Published in French as “La Daronne” in 2017 by Métailié
*** My translation

Karine Tuil ‘L’insouciance’

—She still thinks that I was the one that caused us to split up when we were at Princeton, when it was in fact she that left me! IMG_1106She left me because she preferred to form a couple with a black, a man with a brilliant future ahead of him, a Harvard degree – and black like herself!***

In Karine Tuil’s latest book, ‘Frivolity’***, The question of identity is the very lynchpin of existence, from the very first quote proposed by Tuil:

—Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Freedom, equality, brotherhood), promote all of these values, but sooner or later, the problem of identity appears.
—Aimé CÉSAIRE, Negro I am, Negro I will remain. Interviews with Françoise Vergès***

The question of identity is the underlying link as we follow this intricately interlocking story between the different protagonists:
—Osman Diboula, a black social worker who had become a political adviser to the president following his role in intervening for the families of two adolescents during and after the riots following their accidental  electrocution whilst hiding from the police.
—Romain Roller a career soldier, who had known Osman when he was a troubled adolescent and with his help had been saved by the army and is now coming back from Afghanistan after a traumatic tour of duty.
—Marion Decker, a journalist from a poor background and the second wife of the richissime François Vely.
—François Vely, a rich business man whose Father, Paul Levy, after fighting in the resistance and being deported changed his name from Levy to Vely:

—At the end of the war,Paul Levy had changed the order of the letters in his name and removed his biblical Christian name in order to improve his integration into French society, his assimilation, to reinvent himself maybe, so what? My identity is purely political, Levy/Vely liked to repeat. Paul Vely the great conscience of the left, the committed intellectual, that was important, that defined him far more than the identity that had been pressed on him, like a mask whose contact he had never accepted.***

Through events of considerable violence each of these characters has his identity questioned and we are shown the difficulty and pain involved in changing one’s identity.

—Vely, who due to his wealth finds himself out of touch with his own image and the effects of negative publicity on his life. He then discovers that he cannot escape his Judaity.
—Roller who through the post traumatic stress after his return from Afghanistan is unable to go on mission and loses his identity as a soldier.
—Decker, who has left the poverty of her adolescence and is married to Vely,  is torn by a relationship with Roller which would lead her back to a life closer to the insecurity of her youth.
—Diboula who falls out of favour with the President and discovers the drug of politics, its mechanisms and also that with social mobility there is no going back:

—Don’t believe that loyalty is the rule in politics. It’s the exception. The rule is betrayal…all the art of politics was to create power relationships to protect you from betrayal.***

The book takes all of these questions and bringing these characters all together shakes out four solutions: the end of frivolity.

First Published in French as “L’insouciance” in 2016 by Gallimard
*** My translation