Hannelore Cayre ‘ Richesse Oblige’

Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 2

Hannelore Cayre: Richesse oblige (Métailié)

One thing’s for sure now: you can’t find a single 5 foot 1, within thousands of leagues in any direction, for less than 8000 francs. But don’t worry about it, we’ll rip you away from that damned conscription and I’m sure that pretty soon you’ll be able to thank your sister’s husband who has things in hand. As a former military man he knows the cabarets where these people drink and knows better than anyone how to talk to them……
Your brother in law has chosen Brittany where, it would seem he has old friends who owe him one. He’s written to them. Now we’re waiting.***

Hannelore Cayre, the author of The Godmother, has set this her latest crime fiction in two different time periods, both of which have in common unbridled capitalism. The first part of the story is set leading up to the 1870 Franco-Prussian war during the French Second Empire period under Napoleon III. The army is formed by conscription with a draft lottery being held as each age group is eligible , much like in the US during the Vietnam war. But the rich are rich even after the revolution, forget equality, when you are drawn, your only requirement is that someone physically eligible turns up on the enrolment day, for the rich this is known as “military replacement”, where they buy a poor person to replace them. But for the De Rigny family, with the war looming, as Antoine’s enrolment day approaches, well there aren’t many poor left as illustrated in the opening paragraph.

The present day, Blanche de Rigny, from Brittany, poor, wearing orthopaedic leg braces since a drunken accident works photocopying documents for the police, earning a bit on the side by selling lists of numbers from condemned drug dealers telephones to get by, when one day she accidentally finds out that her name is linked to a rich family. She slowly tracks down the link between her and this family which still make money in Africa without worrying how they make it. She tries to contact “her family” but they want nothing to do with her and then slowly the survivors of this rich family begin to die, one being lynched by a mob in Africa, another by a drug overdose…. until there are only two left, the old “doyenne” and Blanche, maybe the rich are no longer the hunters:

My bosses want me to ask you the following question unofficialy: If by extraordinary bad luck another unfortunate event were to take place, what would be your plans for the Trust?
It’s something to do with fiscal efficiency in an island paradise full of palm trees is that it?
Yes, the British Virgin Isles.
If that family pays people to manage their fortune and these people, of their own initiative, decide to send someone all the way over here to check a civil register, there must be a huge amount of money involved wouldn’t you say?
I love island life. Tell your bosses that, it may calm them……***

An interesting book from a historical perspective but not up there with The Godmother

First Published in French as “Richess oblige” by de Métailié in 2020
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Une chose est certaine à présent: on ne trouve plus à des milliers de lieues à la ronde le moindre cinq pieds un pouce à moins de 8000 francs. Mais ne t’inquiète pas pour cela, nous t’arracherons à cette maudite conscription et je suis sûr que tu pourras bientôt remercier le mari de ta sœur qui a pris les choses en main. Comme ancien militaire, il connaît les cabarets où ces gens boivent et sait mieux que quiconque leur parler……
Ton beau-frère a donc choisi la Bretagne où, paraît-il, d’anciens amis lui doivent des services. Il leur a écrit. Nous attendons.

Mes patrons me demandent de vous poser la question officieuse suivante: si par extraordinaire un malheur arrivait encore, quelles seraient vos intentions pour le trust?
C’est un truc d’optimisation fiscale dans une île paradisiaque avec des palmiers c’est ça?
Oui, aux îles Vierges Britanniques.
Si cette famille paye des gens pour administrer leur fortune et que ces derniers prennent sur eux d’envoyer quelqu’un jusqu’ici juste pour consulter un registre d’état civil, c’est qu’il y a énormément d’argent, non?
J’aime beaucoup la vie insulaire. Dites ça à vos patrons, ça les rassurera peut-être….

Literary Quotes (1) Tournier

To be found in the smallest room in the house

1. Michel Tournier

Café amer au point de n’être plus buvable. Un grand brame. Deux grands brames. Aucun soulagement. La seule consolation de la matinée est d’ordre fécale. Je fais inopinément et sans la moindre bavure un étron superbe, si long qu’il faut qu’il s’incurve à ses extrémités pour tenir dans la cuvette. Je regarde attendri ce beau poupon dodu de limon vivant que je viens d’enfanter et je reprends goût à la vie.
La constipation est une source majeure de morosité. Comme je comprends le Grand Siècle avec sa manie de clystères et de purges! Ce dont l’homme prend le plus mal son parti, c’est d’être un sac d’excréments à deux pattes. À cela seule une défécation heureuse, abondante et régulière pourrait remédier, mais combien chichement cette faveur nous est concédée





Hervé Le Tellier ‘The Anomaly’

Mayday received Air France 006. Can you confirm the transponder code 7700?
The voice, in which a clear incomprehension can be heard, repeats:
Air France from Kennedy Approach, confirm the transponder is on 7700.
You did say Air France 006?
Affirmitive, Air France 006 mayday. I confirm the transponder is on 7700, we’ve come through a huge hail cloud, the windshield is cracked, the radome is probably damaged….
Air France 006 mayday, from Kennedy Approach. This is Air Traffic Control, what is your captain’s name please?
Markle sits there mouth wide open. No controler in his whole career has ever asked him a pilot’s name.***

This Goncourt winning book asks the question, if I was faced with myself how would I react? Would I welcome my other self ? Would I try to dominate my other self? Or would I try to annihilate my other self?

Air France 006, piloted by captain Markle on one of his last flights before retirement, comes through a momentous storm and carries out an emergency landing on the 10th March 2021. As the book slowly develops we zoom in on a number of people whose only link was to have been on this flight. There is Blake, a meticulous and successful french contract killer. There is Lucie Bogaert a successful film editor who has been slowly courted by the older architect, André, but who after her trip to New York becomes disillusioned with André, at the end of this chapter the police come to fetch her.

There are a number of other characters, notably Victor Miesel an unknown writer who on his return from New York writes a hugely successful book called ‘The Anomaly’ and Fehmi Ahmed Kaduna, alias Slimboy a little known rapper from Lagos who writes a world wide hit, ‘Yaba Girls’ on his return from New York.

And then in June, as illustrated in the opening quote, Air france 006 piloted by captain Markle appears out of nowhere in a clear sky, the same pilot, the same plane and the same passengers, Markle is passed from Air Traffic Control to Special operations FAA then to NORAD and is guided to a secret airforce base for landing.

The strength of the book is not to deal with how or why but to follow the people as they are prepared for and then brought to meet their other selves, and so yes, how will they react? What will they do? For instance Slimboy June hasn’t known the success of Slimboy March. Victor Miesel hasn’t written a successful book and Lucie June is still in love with André. And what about Blake?

This highly enjoyable book explores the worlds of a dozen or so passengers on this flight. And how was the US able to react so quickly when Air France 006 June appeared and what is the protocol 42?

First Published in French as “L’Anomalie” by Gallimard in 2020
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Mayday reçu Air France 006. Pouvez-vous confirmer le code transpondeur 7700?
La voix, où l’on décèle une profonde incompréhension, répète:
Air France de Kennedy Approach, confirmez le transpondeur sur 7700. Vous dites bien Air France 006?
Affirme, Air France 006 mayday. Je confirme transpondeur sur 7700, nous avons traversé un gros nuage de grêle, le pare-brise est fissuré, le radôme est sûrement défoncé….
Air France 006 mayday, de Kennedy Approach. Ici Air Traffic Control, quel est le nom du commandant du bord, s’il vous plaît?
Markle reste bouche bée. Jamais de toute sa carrière aucun contrôleur ne lui a demandé le nom d’un pilote.

Stéphane Carlier ‘Madame Halberstadt’s Dog

People have their eyes riveted on their smartphones, what do you expect. And the rare readers all buy the same book…..
My editor
There was an article about it in L’Obs, not long back. The people that still read are divided into three categories. The old because they’re insomniacs. Women with little or no qualifications who read in public transport. And occasional readers who buy one or two books a year.

Baptiste is down, he’s just released a book that’s number 475758 on the Amazon sales list and as he says “People had preferred to buy “Teaching Physical Education to our Children”, a text book written in 1907 by the Abbot François Calot, classed number 475612.” In this state he meets up with his editor and she tells him of her analysis in the opening quote.

But then his neighbour, Madame Halberstadt asks him to look after her dog whilst she is in hospital and things begin to look up, his book begins to climb Amazon’s sales table and he meets an unbelievably beautiful woman whilst walking the dog and tells his mother that the dog is lucky! Soon his mother asks to borrow the dog and then comes around unexpectedly to walk the dog.

When Madame Halberstadt comes back to her apartment she refuses to take the dog back, claiming it’s not hers.
A short pleasant read as Baptiste tries to get to the bottom of the missing dog enigma; since his mother walked the dog Baptiste’s good fortune, as he remarks, had run out.

First Published in French as “Le Chien de Madame Halberstadt” by Le Tripode in 2019
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Les gens ont le nez collé sur leur téléphone, qu’est-ce que tu veux. Et les rares qui lisent encore achètent tous le même livre…
Mon éditrice…
Il y avait un article là-dessus dans L’Obs, y a pas longtemps. Les gens qui lisent encore se répartissent en trois catégories. Les vieux parce qu’ils ont les insomnies. Les femmes pas ou peu diplômées qui lisent dans les transports en commun. Et les lecteurs occasionnels qui achètent un ou deux livres par an.

Luc Chomarat ‘The Latest Norwegian Thriller’

Quai des Polars: short list book 1.

Sites to visit linked to this proud event unfortunately now cancelled.
Emma, Marina-Sofia and the official event site Quai des Polars In order to support this event, hopefully I’ll manage to write articles on all six of the short listed thrillers and propose my winner before the official announce on the 4th of April.

In order to reach the largest readership possible for this attempt, I have created a website to publish my six articles and to propose my winner ****in French*** please go to my French website and don’t hesitate to make it viral

You can bet on the next work of Grundozwkzson being a hybrid product, available only in digital form, with links that will steer the reader towards video extracts and creating crowdfunding for anything based on the text. You could even imagine a sufficiently controlled filing hierarchy allowing each reader to create his own ideal thriller, deleting such and such a person, raping and torturing such and such a girl, the book, the film, the game merging together into a single interactive product with maximum and immediate profitability.***

Dr Flknberg the profiler, Olaf Grundozwkzson the Nordic crime sensation, writer of The Eskimo and inspector Bjornborg and his detective Willander of the police force who are too short staffed to do anything except follow the procedure, well with these characters you know you’re in Scandinavia. In this, Luc Chomarat’s latest book, read for the Roman De Rochefort, the French editor Delafeuille, with his industry is disarray due to the impact of digital publishing, has been sent to Danemark by his traditional company to sign up Olaf Grundozwkzson, the biggest thing in Scandinavian thrillers, for all translation rights in the French speaking world, where he is in competition with Gorki who has a very “modern” vision of the “product” as illustrated in the opening quote.

In this satire on nordic thrillers, Delafeuille soon realises that he himself is in just such an interactive product as he discovers that both the story and exerpts from the book have the same sentences. He finds himself meeting Inspector Bjornborg who represents the boring Scandinavian police:

Bjornborg went back to his Volvo fleet car. As he slid behind the wheel, he felt an overwhelming weariness come upon him. The enquiry was going nowhere, and even that didn’t help him to see clearly. In reality, enquiries didn’t actually advance, but neither did they in Nordic thrillers. They are often rather large laboriously written books. As for the cop’s wives waiting for them when they get home, and the relationship between them, well that too was like real life. In short there was no way out.***

And he soon finds himself working to solve the cases of the beautiful blondhaired girls being violently murdered in Copenhagen along with Sherlock Holmes. When they realise that they are protagonists of the story they decide to try to get an interview with Grundozwkzson with Holmes writing to him:

I’m writing to our friend. I’m proposing to interview him at his home on a certain number of subjects, the Nordic thriller, his personal works, the Change to digital form, etc. I’m flattering him a little That should interest him.
I don’t really understand. Why should he see us?
I’m using the old procedure of the Trojan horse. You see: I’m signing with a fantasy name, Ulla Ogsen, which sounds both Scandinavian and erotic, I’m quickly creating a pretty realistic false profile of a journalist, to which I’m attaching the photo of a silicon enhanced Ukrainian porn star.
It’s a crude trap.
He’ll fall for it old boy because his fantasies are as simplistic as my methods.***

Chomarat takes us through all of the clichés of the Nordic thriller, the violent deaths of beautiful young women this in countries famous for fighting for feminine equality, the pointless deadends to the story, the profiler obsessed by sex, the police force with no budget, the extreme climate eventually causing the main protagonists to be isolated from the world. Even the name of the book, “The Eskimo”. I liked the moment of realisation that something was wrong, if they were in Scandinavia trying to sign the rights for the French translation, as Holmes points out why was the story they were discovering already in French?

An amusing satire read in one day.

First Published in French as “Le Dernier Thriller Norvégien” in 2019 by La Manufacture de Livres
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Il y a gros à parier que le prochain opus de Grundozwkzson sera un produit hybride, lisible exclusivement sous forme numérique, avec des liens qui permettront de diriger le lecteur vers des extraits vidéo, et de générer automatiquement du crowdfunding pour toute forme dérivée du texte. On peut même imaginer une arborescence suffisamment maîtrisée pour permettre à chaque lecteur de créer son thriller idéal, supprimer tel ou tel personnage, violer et torturer telle ou telle fille. Le livre, le film, le jeu se fondront en un produit unique, interactif, à rentabilité maximum et immédiate.

Bjornborg rejoignit sa Volvo de service. En se glissant derrière le volant il sentit une lassitude sans nom lui tomber sur les épaules. L’enquête n’avançait pas, et même cela ne l’aidait pas à y voir plus clair. Dans la réalité, les enquêtes n’avançaient pas effectivement. Mais dans les polars Nordiques non plus. C’étaient souvent des assez gros bouquins, à l’écriture laborieuses. Quant aux épouses de flics retrouvaient à la maison et aux rapports qu’ils entretenaient avec elles, cela aussi ressemblait fort à la vraie vie. Bref, il n’y avait pas d’issue.

J’écris à notre ami. Je lui propose de l’interviewer chez lui, sur un certain nombre de sujets, le thriller nordique, son œuvre personnelle, le passage au numérique, etc. Je le flatte un peu. Cela devrait l’intéresser.
Je ne comprends pas très bien. Pourquoi nous recevrait-Il?
J’utilise le vieux procédé du cheval de Troie. Voyez: je signe d’un nom fantaisiste, Ulla Ogsen, qui sonne à la fois scandinave et érotique. Je crée très rapidement un faux profil de journaliste assez vraisemblable, auquel je rajoute une photo de pornstar Ukrainienne siliconée.
C’est un piège grossier.
Il va tomber dedans, vielle branche, parce que ses fantasmes sont aussi rudimentaires que mon procédé.

Pascal Garnier ‘Moon in a Dead Eye’

A SECURE GATED COMMUNITY There’s nothing quite like knowing you’re protected and secure. With a dedicated caretaker-manager on site 365 days of the year, our residents can enjoy total peace of mind.

As retirement arrives, people can be coaxed into looking for ideals. Here Martial and Odette, happy until now living in Suresnes, close to Paris, find that the people around them and their local references are changing, their friends are moving house, some have died, they have heard rumours of people being robbed at cash machines, their local market store holders have retired, and so with this background they let themselves be seduced into selling up and moving to the south of France, to Les Conviviales, a retirement village, see the opening quote. Except that things are rarely as they seem as they are the first to arrive in winter:

Martial compared the photo on the cover of the brochure with the view from the window. It was raining. It had rained almost every day for the past month. A slick of water shone on the Roman-tiled roofs of the identikit ochre pebbledash bungalows, each fronted by a matching patch of Astroturf-green lawn. At this time of year, the regimented rows of broom-like shrubs provided neither leaves, nor flowers, nor shade. All the shutters were closed. The fifty or so little houses were lined up obediently on either side of a wide road, with gravel paths leading off to each home. Viewed from the air, it must have looked something like a fish skeleton.

This begins as a satire on seeking change, as the village only ever attracts five people, Martial and Odette the first arrivals and then Maxime and his wife Marlène, and finally Léa. Pascal Garnier then slowly investigates these people living in their gated village in the middle of nowhere, each of them having their own quirkiness, for instance Léa who has been given the house by her former employers family after her death to get rid of her and as she admits to Nadine, the village social secretary, she now cannot move as the houses are unsaleable. As she and Nadine are preparing supper one evening we understand that Léa has absences:

The wine had made them a little drunk. They spontaneously moved to tutoiement.
You must have a good laugh watching us, right?
I admit that sometimes I have trouble not laughing.
The other day for instance, when Marlène……Léa… What are you doing?…
Léa was smiling, Her eyes were empty, as she filled the salad bowl with anything at hand, peelings, her keys, her purse……Nadine watched her, eyes wide open….
Léa let herself be led to the sofa. No sooner was she sat down than she closed her eyes and fell asleep. She was still smiling.***

As the story moves on, a camp of gypsies, the grain of sand, move next to the gated community and from then on things spiral out of control with the true sides of each of the residents shining through until the explosive end. A well written satire, don’t let anyone sell you a hapiness package for your retirement!

First Published in French as “Lune captive dans un oeil mort” in 2009 by Zulma.
Translated into English by Emily Boyce and published as “Moon in a Dead Eye” in 2013 by Gallic Books
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Le vin les avait rendues un peu pompette. Spontanément, on était passé au tutoiement.
Tu dois bien t’amuser à nous observer, non?
J’avoue que parfois, j’ai du mal à me retenir.
L’autre jour, par exemple, quand Marlène a…. Léa?… Qu’est-Ce que tu fais?…
Léa souriait, l’œil vide, en remplissant le saladier de tout et n’importe quoi, les épluchures, ses clés, son porte-monnaie….Nadine la regardait faire, les yeux ronds….
Léa se laissa conduire jusqu’au canapé. À Peine fut-elle assise qu’elle ferma les yeux et s’endormit. Elle souriait toujours

Nathalie Azoulai ‘The Spectators’

On the 27th of November 1967, in all of the other houses in France, activities picked up again shortly after the conference. The television is switched off, people go out shopping, get on. For most of the French, nothing serious has has happened besides a few statements about foreign affairs which don’t concern them directly. England, the East, Quebec. Nobody makes the connection between a speech and everyday life, nobody understands the implications, considers them as more than particles in suspension particles that won’t fall and that will end up disappearing. But they know that it has already happened. Over there. They know that a speech by a head of state can be transformed in a few months, without being noticed, into measures, into farewells, into suitcases filled in haste.***

The starting point of Nathalie Azoulai’s ‘Spectators is a seemingly anodyne speech given in November 1967 by the General De Gaulle to the nation, we assist with an unnamed family, a thirteen year old boy his parents and his baby sister and we slowly pick up the tension from the boys viewpoint as we understand that they are exiles from an unnamed Middle Eastern country as described in the opening quote. The story slowly unravels, distorted by the boys vision, as told by a third person narrator, with his father rarely we get to know his mother, obsessed by the Cinema and the great actresses of Hollywood’s golden age through her discussions with Maria her Portuguese seamstress. She tells her of the different actresses and the background stories gleaned from her ancient copies of ‘Photoplay’ such as of Vera Miles, Hitchcock’s first choice to play in Vertigo and who would have had a very different career had she not fallen pregnant and been replaced by Kim Novak. Or of Cora who starred in 1946 in The Postman Always knocks twice, Cora is of course Lana Turner. She tells Maria of the marvellous dresses they wore on screen as she shows her photos of the dresses and asks Maria to make them. In line with this his mother had not wanted the television the had bought just before De Gaulle’s speech:

On the way back she rants, sighs, doesn’t stop saying that she hates television, that’s it’s letting the devil in the house, she prefers the cinema. From now on she’ll see the films without having to leave the home, says his father, in her nightgown if she wants to. And why not in slippers ? A film should be watched dressed to go out and with make up on she replies sharply. She will never accept to be so lowered before all of these impeccable actresses.***

During De Gaulle’s speech there is a question of a war, probably the six day war and his father tells his mother that if they win the war he will buy her the dress of her dreams. Later Pepito, Maria’s son asks him if they are Arabs to which he replies no, Pepito, who doesn’t understands then insists asking, but you do come from an Arab country to which he answers yes. We then slowly learn of their forced exile, and how in the two suitcases they were allowed to take she had tried to take her entire collection of Photoplay. Finally of the doctor she had met before leaving who she nicknamed Flynn. It was then no surprise that the boy tried to understand things:

There you are, for us France is finished! His father lets out.
Don’t say such foolish things, says his mother.
How do you leave a country you love so much but where you are so hated? he asks.
And there, it’s as if the television was suddenly turned off. His two parents turn towards him and give him such as if to turn him to stone.
Taking no notice, he continues: when do you know when it’s time to leave? you know because you’ve already done it.***

This is the story of a boy trying to understand his families complicated life, he had himself been born in France and we finish by understanding his mother’s obsessions, an enigmatic book.

First Published in French as “Les Spectateurs” in 2018 by P.O.L.
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Sur le trajet de retour elle peste, soupire, ne cesse de dire qu’elle déteste la télévision, que c’est le diable dans la maison, qu’elle préfère le cinéma. Elle verra désormais les films sans avoir à sortir de chez elle, dit son père, en chemise de nuit même si elle veut. Et pourquoi pas en chaussons? Un film ça se regarde habillée et maquillée, cinglé-t-elle. Jamais elle ne supportera d’être ainsi diminuée face à toutes ces actrices pimpantes.

Le 27 novembre 1967, dans toutes les autres maisons de France, les activités reprennent dans la minute qui suit la fin de conférence. On éteint la télévision, on sort faire des courses, on vaque. Pour la plupart des Français, rien ne s’est produit de grave que quelques déclarations sur des dossiers de politique étrangère qui ne les concernent pas directement. L’Angleterre, l’orient, le Québec. Personne ne fait le lien entre un discours et la vie de tous les jours, personne ne capte les incidences, ne les considère autrement que comme des particules en suspension qui ne retomberont pas et finiront par disparaître. Mais eux savent que c’est déjà arrivé. Là-bas. Ils savent qu’un discours de chef d’État peut se transformer en quelques mois et sans qu’on y prenne garde, en mesures, en adieu et en valises remplies à la hâte.

Voilà, pour nous, c’est fini la France! lâche son père.
Ne dis pas de bêtises, dit sa mère.
Comment quitter un pays qu’on aime tant mais où on vous hait tant? demande-t-il.
Et là, c’est comme si la télévision s’éteignait d’un seul coup. Ses deux parents se tournent vers lui et lui lancent un regard qui cherche à le pétrifier sur place.
Sans se troubler, il reprend: quand est-ce qu’on sait qu’on doit partir? Vous savez, puisque vous l’avez déjà fait.

Agnès Desarthe ‘The Chance of their Lifetimes’

She speaks English. At least she had learned it at her Lycée. But today she realises, now that they will be here for a year, maybe, in a country where it is spoken, that she knows it very little. She muses that there is the same difference between the language that she thought she knew and that spoken here as between a middle aged woman as she wakes in her worn nightdress, her feet in her husbands oversized slippers, and the same woman with her face made up, her hair arranged and wearing high heels. She asks herself which of these two women resembles the English she had once learnt in her lycée.***

The story opens with Hector, Sylvie and their fourteen year old adolescent son Lester flying from Paris to North Carolina where Hector has obtained a teaching post for one year, which could maybe be prolonged at a local university. The story told in the third person concentrates on Sylvie, and tells of Lester and Hector as observed by Sylvie. Sylvie had married Hector, quite a bit younger than her, and from a relatively well off bourgeois family where the wife was not expected to work, in moving from Paris and her life to North Carolina where she knows no one, Sylvie becomes introspective, firstly thinking about her life to date, playing on her age relative to Lester’s:

She has more or less decided to be her son’s grandmother. It wasn’t her idea, but that of a woman on the bus….”Hey young man”, the woman had said, leaning towards Lester, you are lucky to have such a young granny”….Of course Sylvie didn’t lie to the administration, nor on the forms to be filled out for the school or the town hall. It was only during informal encounters, at the park, at shows, with people she didn’t know and wouldn’t meet again,that she used this version of their relationship. She didn’t refer to Lester as “my son”, she said “my little one” or “my boy.”***

And then on her imagined difficulty in communicating with the world around her, as illustrated in the opening quote. We follow Sylvie as she initially gets lost in the streets in which she lives where she has no reference points and as she eventually finds a means of expression through a pottery class. In parallel her charismatic son gathers around himself all of the marginal pupils at his school that are excluded from the usual groups and who follow him almost like a religious leader without any of their, much to occupied parents noticing. And her womanising husband doing much the same with the female teachers at the faculty. All of this to the background of the Paris terrorist attacks.

There are two awakening calls, the first as the plumber unblocks the washing machine pipes to find they are blocked by a large number of intertwined condoms and in trying to ease her suspicions tells her that they’re maybe her son’s. As she realises what this discovery means, she feels something agreeable as it explains a number of incongruous observations, such as the cutlery not being in its usual place. The second is when the varying neighbours, noticing that their children can no longer be reached on their cell phones, discover the influence of Lester on their children and take the children’s explanations of being touched by Lester literally.

This is a slow moving introspective study of Sylvie and how the choices she has made in life have shaped her and of her hidden inner strength.

First Published in French as “La chance de leur vie” in 2018 by L’Éditions de l’Olivier.
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Elle parle anglais. Du moins a-t-elle appris cette langue au lycée. Mais elle se rend compte aujourd’hui, à présent qu’elle s’installe pour un an, peut-être, dans un pays où cet idiome circule, qu’elle ne la connaît que très peu. Elle songe qu’il y a la même différence entre la langue qu’elle croyait maîtriser et celle que l’on parle ici, qu’entre une femme plus toute jeune, au réveil, vêtue d’une chemise de nuit usée, les pieds dans les savates trop grandes de son mari, et la même, maquillée, coiffée et chaussée d’escarpins. Elle se demande à laquelle de ces deux femmes ressemble l’anglais appris autrefois au lycée.

Elle a plus ou moins décide d’être la grande-mère de son fils. L’idée n’est venue d’elle, mais d’une femme dans le bus….”dis donc mon bonhomme”, avait lancé la dame en se penchant vers Lester, tu en as de la chance d’avoir une mamie aussi jeune”….Bien entendue, Sylvie ne mentait pas à l’administration, ni sur les fiches à remplir pour l’école ou la mairie. C’était seulement lors des rencontres informelles, au square, au spectacle, face à des inconnus qu’elle ne reverrait jamais, qu’elle avait recours à cette version de leur filiation. Elle ne désignait pas Lester en disant “mon fils”, elle disait “mon petit” ou “mon garçon.”

Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam ‘Aracadie’

On the dance floor, Daniel opens his eyes wide, frantically trying to attract my attention. he must have noticed Maureen’s hand dissapearing into the front of my jacket.
-Do you know him?
-yeah we live together.
-He’s your flatmate?
How can I explain things to Maureen in between Sean Paul and Drake? That Daniel isn’t a flatmate, or a brother, not even really a friend?
-He’s your botfriend?
He could have been. If I’d followed Arcady’s insistence, we would have slept together, Nellie and I. Alone at first and then together with Arcady afterwards. That was the idea. Anyway, one of the ideas that sprouted from the fertile brain of my mentor.***

Bayamack-Tan’s story of a sect seen from the inside as completely normal by Farah who arrived at Liberty house at the age of six with her parents and her grandmother, fleeing modernity and its electro-magnetic waves which left her mother in a permanent state of weakness and were welcomed by Arcady. On top of this story of a free love community living in the hills in south eastern France and comprising weakened people from the margins of society and rich old ladies who basically subsidised the community, is grafted the story of Farah’s adolescence as she discovers and comes to live with her own story, discovering her MRKH syndrome “This condition causes the vagina and uterus to be underdeveloped or absent, although external genitalia are normal”

We follow Farah as she discovers sex with Arcady at the age of fifteen for one summer before the events which cause her to leave Liberty house. Life in Liberty house is built around the community with ideals of sharing, until a migrant hides in their grounds and steels some of their food, when Farah discovers the limits of their ideals. This is the event which pushes Farah and her friend Daniel to leave the community, there are no young adults in the community, they all choose to leave when the reach the age of about sixteen.

Farah, ill prepared for the outside world meets Maureen who comes to terms with her sexuality, but as the opening quote shows explaining Liberty house to the outside world would be no easy thing. How does life at Liberty House then develop? Do things end well? Well you would need to read the book but expect no surprises.

The book was well received, but I found it a hard read.

First Published in French as “Arcadie” in 2018 by P.O.L.
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Sur la piste, Daniel ouvre des yeux ronds et m’adresse des signaux frénétiques. Il a dû remarquer que la main de Maureen a disparu dans l’échancrure de mon smoking
-Tu le connais?
-ouais. On habite ensemble.
-C’est ton coloc?
Comment expliquer ça à Maureen entre Sean Paul et Drake? Que Daniel n’est ni un coloc, ni un frère, ni même à proprement parler un ami?
-c’est ton mec?
Il aurait pu l’être. Si J’avais suivi les objurgations d’Arcady, nous aurions couché ensemble, Nellie et moi. Seuls d’abord et avec Arcady ensuite. C’était ça l’idée. Enfin, l’une des idées qui jaillissent du cerveau fertile de mon mentor.

Michel Houellebecq ‘Submission’

I was hungry and what’s more I felt like shopping for something to eat, a blanquette de veau, hake cooked with cervil, a berbère moussaka; meals for the micro-wave, reliable in their insipidness, but with  colorful  packaging…not ill intended and the feeling to be taking part in a deceptive collective, yet egalitarian experience.***

In this book from 2016 by Houellebecq, in a near future the narrator, a bored university lecturer at Paris-Sorbonne, in between having affairs with his students is watching his life drift past, as it would seem is the whole country, in passive dissatisfaction. A perfect idea of his character is given by the opening quote.

Houellebecq picked up well on the mood of the nation with regard to the existing political landscape as was confirmed afterwards by the election of Emmanuel Macron, as  the narrator introduces us to election night:

I’ve always liked presidential election evenings; I even think that with the exception of football world cups, they were my favorite television programs. There is obviously less suspense, elections obeying to the singular narrative disposition of a story whose outcome is known from the first minute.***

But in this election night Houellebecq puts the Muslim brotherhood, a little like Hitler in his time, in a position of force to form a coalition government with the socialists. And as the book goes on he imagines the changes this could bring about, accepted apathetically by the electorate. Let us take the narrators profession as one of the examples he presents:

The republican school system stays as is. Open to everyone – but with much less money, the education budget will be divided by three at least, and this time the teachers won’t be able to save anything, in the curant economic climate any budget cuts will be certain to obtain large approval. And in parallel a system of private muslim schools will be put in place. Obviously in next to no time public schooling will equal low cost schooling.***

Houellebecq as other authors in dystopian novels plays on the readers fears as the narrator loses his job because his university becomes the Islamic university of Paris-Sorbonne and he is not Muslim (but no panic, the university is payed for by the Saudis and he is well paid off). He plays on arrangements to make polygamous mariages legal as the narrator’s colleagues become Muslim to keep their jobs, at three times the pay level, including wives found for them by the administration and  he imagines changes to our shopping centres:

Inside the shopping centre, things were more nuanced. Bricorama (DIY) was uncontested, but Jennifer (adolescent clothes) certainly wouldn’t last long, they sold nothing that would suit an islamic teenager. Secret Stories  on the other hand, that sold cut price branded underwear, had nothing to worry about: the success of similar shops in merchant galleries in Riyad and Abu Dhabi was incontestable…..dressed in impenetrable black burkas during the daytime, when the evening comes rich Saudi women are transformed into birds of paradise.***

This book was well received by the critics I, however, was uncomfortable with it, I found it quite simply plays on readers prejudices, and wouldn’t recommend it, look elsewhere for dystopian futures and imagine, maybe optimistically, that populations everywhere take an active interest in the way their countries are governed.

First Published in French as “Soumission” in 2015 by Flammarion
Translated into English as “Submission” by Lorin Stein and published in 2016 by Vintage
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

J’avais faim et plus encore j’avais envie d’acheter à manger, de la blanquette de veau, du colin au cerfeuil, de la moussaka berbère; les plats pour micro-ondes, fiables dans leur insipidité, mais à l’emballage coloré et joyeux… aucune malveillance ne pouvait s’y lire, et l’impression de participer à une expérience collective décevante, mais égalitaire.

J’aimais depuis toujours les soirées d’élections présidentielle; je crois même qu’a l’exception des coupes de mondes de football, c’était mon programme télévisé favori. le suspense était évidemment moins fort, les élections obéissant à ce dispositif narratif singulier d’une histoire dont le dénouement est connu dès la première minute.

l’école républicaine demeurerait telle quelle, ouverte à tous – mais avec beaucoup moins d’argent, le budget de l’Education nationale sera au moins divisé par trois, et cette fois les profs ne pourront rien sauver, dans le contexte économique actuel toute réduction budgétaire sera certaine de rallier un large consensus. et puis parallèlement se mettrait en place un système d’école musulmanes privées. Evidemment, très vite, l’école publique deviendra une école au rabais.

A l’intérieure du centre, le bilan était plus contrasté. Bricorama était incontestable, mais les jours de Jennifer était sans nul doute comptés, ils ne proposaient rien qui puisse convenir à une adolescente islamique. Le magasin Secret Stories par conte, qui vendait de la lingerie de marque à des prix dégriffés, n’avait aucun souci à se faire: le succès des magasins analogues dans les galeries marchandes de Riyad et d’Abu Dhabi ne s’était pas démenti….Vétues pendant la journée d’impénétrables burqas noires, les riches Saoudiennes se transformaient le soir en oiseaux de paradis.