Home > 2010, 21st Century, Djian, Philippe, French Literature, Novel > Vengeances by Philippe Djian

Vengeances by Philippe Djian

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Vengeances by Philippe Djian 2011. Not translated into English (yet)

Qu’avais-je à perdre? Me restait-il quoi que ce soit que je ne puisse remettre en jeu, qui vaille vraiment le coup, qui fasse réfléchir? Que préserver ? Que sauver, que garder ? La réponse était simple. What did I have to lose? Had I anything left that I could throw in the game, that was worth fighting for or that made me think twice? What to salvage, to keep? The answer was simple.

 This billet has a twin brother at Books I love and others I get stuck with. Indeed, I had this Djian on the shelf, waiting for my attention and it was available at Beirut’s book fair. So Nino and I have been reading Vengeances along.  And luck was on our side since we had the opportunity to meet and discuss it face to face. That’s the magical confederacy of book lovers. But back to the book.

Djian_vengeancesMarc is forty five, a sculptor of contemporary works. He’s supposed to live with Elizabeth but she’s currently MIO. He doesn’t know where she is and if she’ll come home. Marc’s son Alexandre committed suicide about a year ago. Then Marc’s life went astray and it drove Elizabeth away. Marc has two close friends, Anne and Michel. They’ve known each other since their youth and their lives have been intertwined since. They belonged to the same tiny ultra-left group, Marc used to be Anne’s boyfriend and Michel is Marc’s artistic agent. They are tied by emotional and financial bonds.

One day, Marc is in the metro, going home, when he rescues a young woman who vomits violently in front of him. She’s totally wasted. He takes pity on her and brings her home. She’s Gloria and she says she’s Alexandre’s girlfriend. On impulse, Marc asks her to move in with him. Gloria’s arrival will shatter what little stability remained in his life.

Gloria knew who Marc was and makes her nest among the triangle of friends and brings poison in this small circle. They had reached a balance and she spoils it. The interactions between the characters are quite interesting. Gloria flirts with Michel and awakens in him what we call in French le démon de midi (Literally, the noon devil, in other word and according to the dictionary, lust affecting a man in mid-life. Yes, we have an expression to say that in French). Anne is frustrated because Michel doesn’t pay attention to her anymore and she wouldn’t mind rekindling her former passion with Marc. Marc considers Gloria as his daughter-in-law; she’s definitely off-limit for him. His art is affected by his mourning and he doesn’t create anything good, which means Michel will soon lack of sculptures to sell. Anne and Michel don’t like Gloria; they feel the danger she represents and let’s be honest, Gloria doesn’t make a lot of effort to be agreeable. She’s impolite and venomous. She clearly takes advantage of Marc’s pain. He feels guilty about his son. They were estranged and he can’t forgive himself for not knowing him better, not noticing that things were that bad for him. So he’s always happy to gobble any piece of information she’ll throw at him. He’s that needy. Does she tell the truth? Who is she really? Marc doesn’t care to know; he’s desperate.

mainThe narrative shifts from Marc’s first person point of view to an omniscient narrator. The changes come quite often and are marked by a milestone “hand” like the one at the beginning of this paragraph. I have read more than a dozen of Djian’s novels and it’s not the first time his character is named Marc. There’s a Marc in Incidences, in the Doggy Bag series, in Assassins and certainly in others. It’s a pattern, the signature of the artist and a way to say to the readers that names don’t mean anything. Marc could be anyone, even a Philippe.

marc_philippeI find the writer is popping in his own page rather amusing, not that it’s never been done before. It reminded me of Hitchcock’s habit to appear in his films. As always, I enjoyed Djian’s sense of humour, especially when he mocks himself:

ChlorophylleLike Incidences and Impardonnables, Vengeances is a dark story. The characters aren’t likeable and a feeling of dread and doom weighs upon the book. I expected that kind of ending but I thought it fell abruptly on me. This book could have been polished a little bit. In my opinion, the characters’ ages don’t match with their life experiences. Marc and Michel are too young to have taken part in these political clandestine fights. They should have been around twenty in 1975, which means being born in 1955 or 1960 at the latest. In this case, you can’t be 45 in 2010. And the novel is set in our time. In my opinion, the ending was botched up, I felt the novel had reached the expected number of pages or that the deadline to send it to the publisher had come. Too bad.

There are recurring things in life. Every year brings a new film by Woody Allen and a new novel by Djian. I love both artists but some of their works are better than others. For me, Vengeances is not Djian at his best. Incidences and Impardonnables are better books. Even if Djian has forever turned his back to the sunny novels of his beginnings, I still recommend Echine and Maudit manège to anyone who would like to read him.

  1. December 9, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    I’m glad you also felt the book was hastily wrapped ready for shipping. This was my impression too. I couldn’t feel with Marc at all; even his regret sounded not too genuine to me, but you make a good case by showing how needy he was for any information Gloria throws at him. I loved the idea of her intrusion on their circle of friendship; it gave the book an experimental quality while still being readable.
    And Woody Allen… I have seen each and every one of his movies more than once, including the documentaries (I admit) and am impatiently waiting for the release of Blue Jasmine


    • December 10, 2013 at 12:03 am

      As a parent, I have trouble sympathising with characters that don’t stop looking at their navel to take care of their child. Marc loved Alexandre but as you point it out in your review, he never grew up to be a father.

      PS: Blue Jasmine is wonderful. Un bon cru.


  2. December 10, 2013 at 12:04 am

    I was going to ask how this stood up to his other books, but you already answered that.


    • December 10, 2013 at 12:08 am

      I’ll second Nino’s statement. I revised my judgement when I wrote about it. It’s a lot more subtle than it appears.

      The characters are entangled and I never quite understood how Michel managed to trace Gloria after she disappeared on Marc the first time. There’s something shady in their past as activists.


  3. December 10, 2013 at 10:54 am

    This sounds intriguing. The interrelationships between the characters seem intricate and very well developed.

    That sense of dread that you mention can be very powerful and affecting when reading a book. I recall it being strong in some Philip Roth Books like The Human Stain and I Married a Communist as well as George Orwell’s Nine – Teem Eighty – Four.


    • December 10, 2013 at 10:44 pm

      Unforgivable is another one with strong interactions between characters. It’s a better one to discover his universe.
      Roth is excellent for this too and Djian is a great fan of his.


  4. December 11, 2013 at 11:55 am

    I’m not such a regular reader of Djian as you, so I’d pass this and rather red one of his other ones.
    I was very puzzled to see Zane Gryy in your “upcoming posts” list. Here I was thinking I was the only one who had that on her TBR pile. Funny enough I was tempted to start it just yesterday.


    • December 11, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      You can skip this one, it’s not his best.
      Zane Grey came in the list of books about America when I asked for recommendations earlier this year. I’d love to read your thoughts about him. Do you have Riders of the Purple Sage too?


      • December 12, 2013 at 12:38 pm

        Yes, that’s the one I have.


  5. December 12, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Nice review, Emma. I love the phrase ‘le démon de midi’. It describes the situation perfectly. Sorry to know that the book is a bit dark. The character of Gloria is not really likeable. I don’t know whether I will try this book. But glad to know that Djian’s earlier works are ‘sunny’. Maybe I will try one of them. It is interesting to know about the inconsistency with respect to the characters’ ages. I think that the author might have wanted two different events from different eras to be a part of the characters’ lives and so took poetic license 🙂 Or maybe he didn’t even realize what he was doing 🙂

    It was nice to know that you and Caroline are planning to read Zane Grey soon. Happy reading! I love westerns! But I read mostly Western comics. Will look forward to reading both of your thoughts on Zane Grey’s book.


    • December 14, 2013 at 11:56 pm

      Hi Vishy,

      Sorry for the slow answer.
      I’m also sorry to say that Djian’s earlier books aren’t available in English. Have you seen the film Betty Blue? It’s based upon Djian’s book 37°2 le matin.

      I’m not sure it was poetic licence here. It looked more like inconsistency.

      The Zane Grey will be my next billet, I think. I hope Caroline will review it, I’m curious about her thoughts about it.


      • December 15, 2013 at 5:03 pm

        Sorry to know that Djian’s earlier novels are not available in English, Emma. I haven’t seen ‘Betty Blue’ but the name sounds familiar. I read a little bit about in in Wikipedia and found that the title ’37°2 le matin’ is better 🙂 I will look for the DVD of the movie.

        Hope you enjoy the Zane Grey book. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts. Happy reading!


        • December 17, 2013 at 7:48 pm

          I know, it’s a shame.
          Betty Blue used to be a cult movie, especially because of Béatrice Dalle.

          Upcoming billet: Zane Grey!!


  1. May 14, 2017 at 9:24 am

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