Archive for March 2, 2013

Consequences by Philippe Djian

March 2, 2013 24 comments

Incidences by Philippe Djian 2010 English title : Consequences (Sept. 2013)

Dieu sait vers quoi notre vie nous porte, Annie, Dieu sait ce qu’on récolte au bout du compte. On décide de choisir la facilité et soudain tout se complique. On passe le plus clair de son existence à payer pour ses erreurs, vous savez, ce n’est pas moi qui l’ait inventé. On peut le vérifier chaque jour. God knows where our life leads us, Annie, God knows what we get in the end. We choose the easy way and suddenly everything gets complicated. We spend most of our existence atoning for our mistakes, you know, I didn’t invent this. We can see this every day. (Sorry, no professional translation available.)

I believe every reader has their “comfort” writers, ones they enjoy and turn to when then they when to be sure to read something good. Philippe Djian is one of my comfort writers; I’ve been reading him since adolescence. I wrote a billet about Unforgiveable, but for the rest, I read them pre-blog. He’s not very famous in the English-speaking world, I believe, except for Betty Blue, which was made into a film.

Incidences starts with Marc driving his Fiat 500 at night on a small lacy road in the mountains. He teaches creative writing at the local university and is a womanizer. Or more precisely, he enjoys discreet no-strings-attached sex with some of his students. This particular night, he’s bringing Barbara home for a booty call. The next morning, there’s a slight glitch in his usual routine: Barbara is dead. Instead of following the conventional path and call the police, he decides to haul the body in the mountain and ditch it in a crevasse.

The next day at work, he is interviewed by a policeman about Barbara’s sudden disappearance and seems to get away with it. Myriam, Barbara’s step-mother, comes to see him to hear about Barbara and discuss her with him. They are attracted to each other and start a steamy relationship.

Despite Marc’s carefulness, everything goes downhill from there on.

Marc is 53 and lives with his older sister Marianne, also a teacher at the same university. They have a muddy relationship, coming from a dreadful childhood tainted with violence and abuse. A drama that was never healed happened and the reader discovers progressively the extents of the damages. Marianne and him have put together a way of living that allow them to cope with the past and take care of each other. With Myriam in the picture and Richard, the president of the university coming on to Marianne, their careful balance is shattered.

When you read my summary, it seems quite a classic novel but it isn’t. From the beginning, the reader can feel that Marc isn’t a reliable narrator, that his reactions are out of line, that something’s off in his behavior. Is he sane? The women in his life are his curse: his abusive mother, his fragile sister, his forbidden young lovers and his unquenchable lust for Myriam.

Marc is a cold character, one that makes you feel uneasy, not a mind you’re happy to visit. He doesn’t trust the police and is ready to anything to save himself. He’s like an animal, his survival instinct overcomes all sense of propriety or of moral code. He has a hard time with the stiff conservatism of the university and his affairs with students don’t help his case.

Les professeurs pouvaient s’accoupler aux professeurs, ça ne posait aucun problème, l’exercice était même amplement pratiqué dans les environs, voire encouragé, mais en revanche les professeurs ne pouvaient pas s’accoupler avec les étudiants ni avec les parents d’élèves. C’était la loi. Personne ne voulait d’ennui. Personne ne songeait à mélanger les genres. Aucun membre sensé de la communauté. Teachers could mate with teacher, that wasn’t a problem, the exercise was by the way widely practiced in the area or even encouraged. But teachers couldn’t mate with students or their parents. It was the law. Nobody was seeking trouble. Nobody thought about mixing genres. No sensible member of this community. (Sorry, no professional translation available.)

Djian_incidencesMixing genres is exactly what Marc does and also exactly what Djian is doing in this novel. I haven’t read a lot of Noir but I’ve read enough of Guy’s reviews to recognize the pattern in a book. This is classic Noir to me: a lethal woman unfurling her sexuality to a man who cannot resist, a dramatic event that shakes the hero’s carefully built life, the past looming and threatening, a character who doesn’t make the right decision. He’s doomed from the start and the tension builds up as his life gets more and more complicated as the events develop. The reader is attached to the book with a suspenseful string, knows it can only end badly but wonder how bad it will be and what kind of bad it will be.

Djian’s style is excellent, as usual or at least, I enjoy his style. Contrary to Unforgivable which was too rooted in today’s society for its own good, this one has a sense of timelessness that helps books surviving the time they were released. I love the cover of the book as it represents well the physical crevasse where Marc throws Barbara’s body and the figurative fault-line that this event and his subsequent acquaintance with Myriam create in his life.Once again, Djian didn’t let me down, I wanted to read something good, I did. I also have Vengeance at home and I can’t wait to read his latest, Oh! which received a lot of praise when it was published last fall.

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