Monday, 26 October 2015

The A26 by Pascal Garnier

This is the first book by Pascal Garnier that I have read, but it certainly won’t be the last. I’m relatively new to French crime fiction, the only other works I’ve read having been the excellent Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne and the equally compelling Carnage by Maxime Chattam, the latter of which I review here:

What these three books share is a kind of quirkiness that I’m starting to associate with Francophone fiction, a surrealism that is quite unlike anything I’ve encountered elsewhere. In Pascal Garnier’s A26 this revolves around the lives of Yolande and her brother Bernard, a distinctly odd set of siblings who live together. Yolande is a hermit, she never ventures from the confines of their shabby and cluttered abode, who relies on her brother for her every need. Bernard on the other hand has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease (details are scarce, but I suspect it’s cancer), feels his life has been wasted, and starts to get some very dark urges as a result. The A26 of the title is a new motorway being built, a none-too-subtle manifestation of the modern world threatening to encroach on their lives.

This book tries to tackle a number of themes in its slim 112 pages, not least issues France has never really resolved from the Second World War. First and foremost it tackles the issue of those who collaborated with the Germans, those who persecuted them after the war and the hypocrisy of many who slung mud. Related issues the book raises are repentance, compassion and ostracism; the treatment of the mentally ill and those we deem outsiders; the onward march of progress. Some of these themes are deftly handled, particularly the residue of France’s shaming of those it deemed to have collaborated, the humiliations foisted upon young women who had relationships with German soldiers, a stigma which lasted long after the visible tarring and feathering. With other issues the author is clumsier, the building of the A26 motorway as a personification of progress I found a particularly clunky plot device.

That all said, this is a short and compelling read. It’s a great example of French crime fiction at it’s best, a region and tradition which I consider richer than the Scandi-Crime that routinely tops the UK’s bestseller lists. If you want to read something different than endlessly frozen landscapes, this book is as good a place to start.

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars

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