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

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

In reverse Order

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

And the Winner should be

1. Britt Benett ‘The Vanishing Half’

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

Andrés Barba ‘Une république lumineuse’


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

The quotes as read in French before translation

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

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

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

Frédérique Boyer ‘Le lièvre’


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

The quotes as read in French before translation

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

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

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

Celia Levi ‘La Tannerie’


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

The quotes as read in French before translation

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

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

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

Irène Kaufer ‘Dibbouks’


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

The quotes as read in French before translation

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

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

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

Britt Benett ‘The Vanishing Half


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

The quotes in French.

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

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

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

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

Javier Cercas ‘Terra Alta’


“I’m sorry mate”, said his colleague. “My son broke his finger playing handball”.
“No problem” Melchior reassured him as he did up his safety belt. “I listened to a bunch of old people to pass the time”.
“I’ll bet all they talked about was the war”.
Melchor turned towards him.img_2777“How did you know”?
“Don’t talk rubbish”, said Sirvent.
“Here, the old folks don’t talk about anything else. As if nothing else has happened here in Terra Alta in the last 80 years”.***


This book, my third read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, and my second by Javier cercas after ‘Outlaws‘ follows the main protagonist Melchor, who identifies his life with Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and in particular, not to Jean Valjean but to Javert. Not the man who must choose between “Staying in heaven and becoming a demon or going back into hell and becoming an angel” but “the pretend bad guy, and pretend bad guys are the real good guys”. He even names his daughter Cosette.

Just for a change(heavy sarchasm) the story follows two distinct time lines, the present in Terra Alta and the past which has moulded Melchor. In the present, the story begins with an atrocious murder, the owner of the largest company in the area, Francisco Addel and his wife are sadistically tortured to death in their home, enough to shock the police at the death scene as illustrated below. In Terra Alta everyone knows everyone and the enquiry soon becomes bogged down and the task force eventually gets re-deployed. In the second time line we learn that Melchor much like Jean Valjean has been in prison and then with false paperwork was able to become a policeman, following a shooting incident where Melchor puts to good use the training he had working for a Cartel, he shoots dead four terrorists, making him famous, the police who had begun to realise his paperwork was suspect ensure his legitimacy and send him into the isolated Terra Alta until things quieten down.


Goma watches them all for a moment then points to a puddle of sticky stuff on the floor.
“Can anybody explain to me what this is”?
“The patrolman who came in with me vomitted”, Melchor answers.
“He wasn’t the only one”, adds deputy inspector Barrera. “Except that the others were more discreet”.***


This is a story of meanness, of cupidity and of revenge. And what if Javert once again had to choose, would he arrest the killer or let him go? throw into the cauldron the murder of Melchor’s wife.

Cercas keeps our attention and leaves enough doubt about Melchor’s choices.

First Published in spanish as “Terra Alta” in 2021, by Booket
Translated into french by Aleksandar Grujicic and Karine Louesdon and published as “Terra Alta” by Actes Sud in 2021
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

—Je suis désolé, mec, dit son collègue. Mon fils s’est cassé un doigt en jouant au hand.
—Pas de souci, le rassura Melchor en bouclant sa ceinture de sécurité. J’ai écouté un groupe de vieux, ça m’a fait passer le temps.
—Je parie qu’ils parlaient de la guerre.
Melchor se tourna vers lui.
—Comment tu sais ça?
—Arrête tes conneries, dit Sirvent. Ici, les vieux ne parlent que de ça. Comme s’il ne s’était rien passé en Terra Alta ces quatre-vingts dernières années.

Goma reste un moment à les observer puis montre du doit une flaque d’une matière pâteuse qui souille le sol.
—Quelqu’un pourrait m’expliquer ce que c’est?
—Le patrouilleur qui est entré avec moi a vomi, répond Melchor.
—Il n’a pas été le seul, ajoute le sous-inspecteur Barrera. Sauf que les autres ont été plus discrets.

Fabrice Caro ‘Broadway’


For Denis’s fortieth birthday, Beatrice organised a surprise party, she thought it would be a good idea to hold it in a Karaoke bar.I suspect Denis and Beatrice rack their heads to try to find activities that are the exact opposite of my desires.***


This was my second book read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, and has left me with mixed sentiments, a lot of work has gone into shaping the story and linking the witty stories together using running jokes. The tone is slightly disenchanted with life, a mid life crisis? But at the same time that is all this book is, a string of witty stories and for this reader I soon lost patience. and no longer appreciated his drollery, I wanted to scream too much! The following quote is an example of Axel wanting to tell his daughter Jade that her boyfriend that has left her just isn’t woth the sorrow. The paragraph in itself is mildly amusing, the blue envelope is one of the running jokes; basically he received a colorectal test kit through the post four years earlier at 46 years old than the 50 years at which the kit is normally sent:


Maybe I should tell her: you know, today you admire him, but one day he’ll change, he’ll put on weight, slowly a fatty layer will appear around his midrift, his hair will recede, he’ll try to limit that by the use of Minoxydil 5% to no avail, you’ll notice CDs from the 90s (even the 80s) in the glove compartment, he’ll tell you its ironic, but it won’t be it’ll just be bad taste, in the evening on the sofahe’ll read car mags and sport pages, now and again he’ll say something about a transfer out loud and you’ll ask yourself if he hasn’t anything better to say to you, you’ll dye your hair and he won’t notice it, you’ll argue with each other more and more for less and less and one day he’ll go for the mailand find a blue envelope….,colorectal blue, that’s what you’re crying over Jade.***


In a nutshell Axel talks about his life, which should be happy, but as the opening quote shows, it’s all about him.

I won’t be voting for this book, much like king John, it died of a surfeit.

First Published in french as “Broadway” in 2020 by Gallimard.*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Pour les quarante ans de Denis, Béatrice lui avait organisé un anniversaire surprise, elle lui avait trouvé judicieux de faire ça dans un bar karaoké – je soupçonne Denis et Béatrice de se creuser la tête pour tenter de ne me proposer que des activités qui sont aux antipodes de mes aspirations.

Peut-être devrais-je dire: tu sais, tu l’admires aujourd’hui, mais un jour il changera, il va prendre du poids, sensiblement, des contours de graisse vont faire leur apparition tout autour de son ventre, son front va commencer à se dégarnir, il essaiera d’enrayer ça avec du Minoxydil 5% mais ce sera peine perdu, tu vas voir apparaitre des CD des années 90 (voire 80) dans sa boîte à gants, il te dira que c’est du seconde degré mais ça n’en sera pas, ce sera juste du mauvais goût, le soir sur le canapé il lira des magazines automobiles et des journaux de sport, de temps à autre il fera un commentaire à haute voix sur un transfert de joueur et tu te demanderas s’il n’a pas autre chose à te dire que ça , tu feras une couleur et il ne remarquera pas que tu as fait une couleur, vos disputes se feront de plus en plus fréquentes, avec de moins en moins d’enjeu et un jour il ira au courrier et y trouvera une enveloppe bleue…, bleue colorectal, voila ce que tu pleurniches ma Jade.

Julia Deck ‘Private Property’


I knew about Annabelle’s hot pants. She had a whole collection, which she wore with high heels when she spotted a sucker at the agency. I’d also noticed to what extent hot pants make the person that wears them amusing, and just how much the listeners suddenly credit then with inimaginable wit.***


The Cardarecs are a middle class hipster Parisian couple, with middle class aspirations, to move from Paris, but not too far, to be able to benefit from more space, to get out doors a little but not to leave their Parisian lifestile behind. in this book read for the Roman de Rochefort.

He, Charles, a long term hypochondriac that she, the narrator, an architect, with their social consciences buy into a new eco-district in the suburbs, energy-neutral, low waste footprint etc. only to find that it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Any small set back sends Charles scuttering for his bed. The walls of the houses are paper thin, and the self-sufficient energy system has been under-sized. The Cardarecs could have made a go of it in spite of all this had it not been for their neighbours, the Lecoq family.

In this short sharp concise writing style Julia Deck tells the story of the neighbours from hell, Annabelle from the opening quote, young thirty something and her husband Arnaud, partying loudly into the early hours and eventually annoying the whole neighbourhood. After Charles complains about them in an informal neighbour’s meeting the Lecoq family cat is found dead and cut in half down in the trench in the street meant to bring gas to their houses. Then Annabelle dissapears.

When her body shows up on waste ground Charles is suspected and arrested, Arnaud the husband had been out all night with Patrick Lemoine, a neighbour who avoids going into too much detail about their evening out and as the narrator tells us:


Ok, Lemoine had never been able to get it up, it was a miracle that he had managed to knock her up, and that twice. And what’s more he had doubly lied. It most definitely wasn’t a coincidence that he’d come across Arnaud Lecoq at the Voltigeur the evening Annabelle had dissapeared. They had arranged to meet there and to go on to a private club where they had accidently met some time before and found that they had something secret in common.***


First Published in French as “Propriété privé” by Les Éditions de Minuit in 2019
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Je connaissais les microshorts d’Annabelle. Elle en possédait toute une collection, qu’elle assortissait avec des talons compensés quand elle avait flairé le gogo à l’agence. J’avais également noté à quel point les microshorts confèrent de l’esprit à celle qui les portent, et combien leurs auditeurs les créditent soudain d’une verve insoupçonnée.

Oui, Lemoine avait toujours bandé mou, c’était un miracle qu’il l’ai engrossée par deux fois. Et puis il avait doublement menti. Ce n’était absolument pas une coïncidence s’il était tombé sur Arnaud Lecoq au Voltigeur le soir de la disparition d’Annabelle. Les deux hommes s’étaient donnés rendez-vous. Ils étaient convenus de se rendre ensemble dans un club privé où ils s’étaient croisés par hasard quelques temps plus tôt, se découvrant par la même occasion un point commun inavoué.

Claudie Hunzinger ‘Les Grands Cerfs’


The economic impact for the Rhineland can be summarised as follows: 1 deer shot = 1260 euros saved for the timber industry.***


Years ago, Nils and Pamina, still students take the radical decision to move to the mountains and live on a high prairie cut of from the world in this book read for the Roman de Rochefort. Sure each year at set times they heard wild life noises and discovered their young trees had been massacred in the morning, but then Léo arrived, maybe an ex-military man, wanting to know if he can set up an observation post on their land and then for ten years not much happens.

Léo tells Pamina of the stags he observes and of which he takes photos, of Wow of Apollo, of Arador and of Geronimo. Léo who has observed these animals and knows them has given them names to personalise them. Slowly Pamina is pulled into the story until one day she gives in to a whim and goes to the observation point. She slowly learns that observing these animals is 99% waiting and 1 % observation, she is drawn in to Léo’s tales and marvels at these wonderful creatures. As she gets to know more about them, of their world, of their vocabulary, antlers, horns, velvet, moult and feels she knows them, of their life cycle, the animals begin to be shot, the wonderful Wow and the old clever Arador.

Claudie Hunziger renders their lives real to us, their growing antlers, shedding their velvet by impact with the trees, rubbing their antlers up against the trees to give them a finish, colour, rubbing up against a nut tree for instance to give an antler a gold colour. She tells us of the nights where they fight for ascendancy, of their mating and of then losing their antlers, their moult until the cycle begins in the spring. She tells us of their surviving the hunger of winter in the snow, eating tree bark.

Léo brings Pamina into contact with the forestry commission and the hunters who together “regulate” the “stock” of deer and learns of the future for the deer as shown in the opening quote from the representative of the commission. He explains to her that the forestry commission who regulate the livestock, auctioning of bracelets, the right to kill a deer, are only interested in the timber the forest produces:


He presented himself, what’s more, as a representative of the forestry commission responsible for implementing the national policy which is to ensure the regeneration of the forest and of its financial returns. That is to say to favour coniferous trees, silver firs, spice trees, Douglas firs, the woody species the most chewed by stags, eaten if you like……And that that required a population of deer reduced to a strict minimum.***


And of course what the hunters really want are the antlers, the stags are their real prey. Pamina lives this as her personal window onto the sixth great extinction which is now underway.

If you didn’t know about the life of stags before you read this, you certainly knew more afterwards. This was written passionately.

First Published in French as “Les grands cerfs” by Grasset in 2019
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

L’impact économique pour la Rhénanie Palatinat se résume ainsi: 1 chevreuil tiré = 1260 euros d’économie pour l’industrie forestière.

s’est d’ailleurs présenté comme un agent de l’ONF chargé d’appliquer la politique nationale qui est de veiller à la régénération des forêts et à leur rendement financier. C’est à dire de veiller à privilégier les conifères, sapins pectinés, épiceas, douglas, espèces ligneuses les plus “abrouties” par les cerfs, bouffées, quoi…. Et que ça passait par un peuplement de cervidés réduit au minimum