Home > 2000, 21st Century, Crime Fiction, French Literature, Garnier Pascal, Polar, TBR20 > Moon in a Dead Eye by Pascal Garnier

Moon in a Dead Eye by Pascal Garnier

Moon in a Dead Eye by Pascal Garnier (2009) French title: Lune captive dans un œil mort.

Moon in a Dead Eye is my second Pascal Garnier and what a delight it was.

Martial and Odette are freshly settled in a gated community in the South of France. They used to live near Paris and they sold their house and left everything behind for this place. Only they are the first settlers. Pioneers of a new genre, they look at the rain falling down on their dream and hope for the arrival of new neighbours to break their loneliness and start activities at the brand new clubhouse. There are fifty houses in the complex and they are the only inhabitants. Pioneers, I tell you.

Martial has trouble adjusting to his new life. The house is full of furniture that smell new and Odette is on a mission to add as many trinkets as necessary to make this place feel like home.

Odette, elle, colonisait les lieux avec une détermination de missionnaire. Chaque fois qu’ils allaient en ville elle ne manquait pas d’en rapporter une chose, un objet, utile ou décoratif, un tapis de bain, un vase, un enrouleur de papier toilette, une monstrueuse cigale de céramique jaune et noire… Odette, meanwhile, was colonising the place with missionary zeal. She could not go into town without bringing some useful or decorative object back with her: a bath mat, a toilet-roll holder, a hideous black and yellow ceramic cicada… (translation by Emily Boyce)

For non-French readers, these « hideous black and yellow ceramic cicada » are typical tourist crap beach merchants sell along the shore during the summer. It’s as Provence as lavender, Marseille soap and Provence table cloth. These cicada look like this:

cigaleand if you’re unlucky, it makes cicada noise as well. For a French woman, the mental image is immediate and screams beauf, which has no direct translation and is a slightly derogative way to say archetypal lower-middle-class Frenchman.

Garnier_LuneArrive Marlène and Maxime Node. Neighbours, at last. Odette and Martial speculated about them and were looking forward to meeting them. Like in American series about hell in the suburbs, they welcome them with warmth and intend to be friends. After all they have to live in close proximity. Well, you’re still in France though because they don’t bring pie, only start with a little customary chat before going back to their house, laughing, gossiping about Maxime’s teeth being an ad for his dentist and celebrating by opening a bottle of champagne and a can of foie gras.

We see the two couples settling in a routine until a fifth person moves in another house. They wouldn’t be friend if they weren’t neighbours, so the distraction is welcome. Léa is alone and it’s not clear to the others why she chose to live here. They speculate. Is she a widow? Is she a spinster? Their mission is to include her in their little group.

Meanwhile, Martial still feels out-of-place, out-of-time.

Oui, c’était comme de vivre en vacances, à la difference près que les vacances avaient une fin alors qu’ici, il n’y en avait pas. C’était un peu comme s’ils s’étaient payé l’éternité, ils n’avaient plus d’avenir. Yes, it was like living on holiday, the only difference being that holidays came to an end. It was as though they had bought themselves a ticket to the afterlife; they no longer had a future.

But Odette is determined to make the most of her new life. She pushes the developer to hire someone to take care of the clubhouse and entertain them now that they’re numerous enough. Madeleine joins them once a week. Deep down they all know moving there was a mistake but they refuse to acknowledge it, otherwise they’d fall apart.

All the characters are pathetic in their own way. They have a past, they’re not so young anymore and their motivations to leave their house, their friends, their neighbourhoods behind are incomprehensible. They’re looking for security. Odette and Martial’s first months on the property are creepy enough to make you run to the hills. After the Nodes arrive, they are set on socializing at any cost and it’s like they’re in a perpetual summer camp for grown-ups. Only it gets tiring. Only they’re not children anymore but ageing.

Pascal Garnier shows very well how hard it is for Martial to settle in a new place, how he misses his habits in his old neighbourhood, how everything seems forced and new. He also pictures masterfully  how hell is other people, as Sartre pointed out in Huis-Clos. They have to live together and as they’re all retired, they are at home all the time and bump into each other repeatedly. Womanizer Maxime has a crush on Léa, he’s a little obnoxious and Marlène talks incessantly about her son, the lawyer. Odette and Martial are in this together, finding comfort in each other’s company. They are good together and they were chasing a dream of the South, as if life were easier, funnier under the sun.

Moon in a Dead Eye turns paranoid and gory at some point but I won’t reveal how and why. For that, you’ll have to read the book. I recommend it for its wacky sense of humour, Garnier’s poetry in his writing, for the characters who come to life and seem to come out of the pages to meet you. They are middle-class couples who dreamt of a sunny retirement, who looked for an escape to find a not-so golden prison.

Garnier describes the gated community and the artificial life it creates. People live in their world and are cut off of real life. Part of feeling alive is feeling a member of a community. And a healthy community has people from all ages, all backgrounds. Martial misses little things: small talk with the baker, having a café at the downstairs bar, being part of the hustle of a living neighbourhood. They’re living in an alternate world where children are banned and strangers have to be formally admitted at the gate. Moon in a Dead Eye is French to the core. Garnier has this nasty sense of humour so so French and usually directed at the bourgeoisie.

I’m with Pascal Garnier on this one. I’ll never understand how someone would willingly go and live in a place full of dos and don’ts and that regiments the presence of children. I’d suffocate. And let’s not speak of being forced-fed with silly activities at the clubhouse and being obliged to socialize with neighbours all day long. *shudder* I also don’t see myself leaving all my friends behind, my everyday life to chase after a dream of eternal sunshine in the South. Why would I want to move to a ghetto for senior citizens? I’d rather live downtown, near a cinema, a bookstore, a library and a bakery, with free access to family and friends. The rest is futile preoccupations, which leads me to recommend you Guy’s insightful review of Moon in a Dead Eye.

  1. July 16, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    This book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for quite a while; I enjoyed The A26 a lot, but for some reason the premise of this one didn’t really appeal to me. Having read your excellent review, though, I think it’s about time I gave it a try. 🙂


    • July 16, 2015 at 11:12 pm

      I’m sure you’ll have fun. I wasn’t attracted to The A26 but this one is excellent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. davidsimmons6
    July 17, 2015 at 1:02 am

    Thanks for another stimulating review. Garnier is often compared to Simenon, which I can understand, but the three Garniers I’ve read are nowhere as dreary. So far, I like his style, but I’ve found the plots a little too fantastic. The English translations (6) are coming out fast ; I hope they’re true to the author. What’s the other Garnier you read?


    • July 18, 2015 at 7:52 am

      I’ve only read two Simenons, both featuring Maigret. I wasn’t blown away. I have to try the romans durs, though. I have L’outlaw in my TBR20 project and I’m looking forward to it. All this to say I can’t compare.

      The English publisher who decided to translate Garnier into English seems very successful. Several of his books have been translated in a short time and the English-speaking readers like Garnier well-enough. From the quotes I’ve seen, the translations look faithful.

      I’ve also read The Front Seat Passenger.


  3. July 17, 2015 at 2:59 am

    Thanks for the mention, Emma. This one remains my favourite Garnier novel so far, but I still have two left to go. Perhaps, like you, I enjoyed this one because I identified with the absurdity of moving to such a community and expecting perfection.


    • July 18, 2015 at 7:55 am

      Most of the appeal of the book is observing people in this new environment. It’s like Garnier is a scientist creating an experiment, putting people in a closed place and see what happens.

      Moving to this kind of place seems absurd and mad to me but there’s no accounting for taste.


  4. July 17, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Great review Emma. I particularly like your commentary on the artificial nature of life in the gated community – it must feel like you’re living in a hermetically sealed bubble.

    Moon in a Dead Eye is my favourite of the Garnier novellas I’ve read so far (although I still have The Islanders to come). It just struck me as being a little more compassionate than Front Seat Passenger, which pushed me over the edge with its ending. For instance, Lea’s character is relatively well-adjusted in comparison with the others, and Garnier isn’t quite as ruthless with her. He’s a bit more sympathetic.


    • July 18, 2015 at 8:01 am

      You’re right, it’s more compassionate than The Front Seat Passenger. I like Moon in a Dead Eye better too.

      Martial is well-adjusted too, I think. He doesn’t like the place and he’s too afraid to disappoint Odette to say it out loud. They should cut their losses and run but how and where? Their money is tied in this property and with only 3 houses occupied, it’s unlikely they’ll find a buyer for their place. I’m sure it’s happened before.
      Garnier can be sympathetic with Léa, she never chose to be there.


      • July 19, 2015 at 6:39 pm

        Good point about Martial. I really felt for him, especially in the early stages of the story.


        • July 20, 2015 at 8:13 pm

          He sounded well adjusted until the place got to him.


  5. July 17, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    I wish I had started with this one. I was so disappointed in the Garnier I’ve read but this sounds excellent. So I might give him another try after all.


    • July 18, 2015 at 8:01 am

      It’s better than The Front Seat Passenger. The setting helps a lot.


  6. July 17, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    I have commentary Guy’s commentary on Garnier as I enjoyed your’s Emma.

    I too would shudder at living in such a place.

    I really laughed at your comments relating to things such as those ceramic cicada. We have so many similar type objects that folks collect here in the U.S. that exude the same character.



    • July 18, 2015 at 8:03 am

      Thanks Brian.
      I thought it’d be nice to explain this “cultural” reference.
      Please, give me an example of the American equivalent of the ceramic cicada.


  7. July 18, 2015 at 1:20 am

    I expect to be reading this soon. I love your bringing in explanations of French particulars such as the ceramic cicada. “Beauf” has been “translated” for me variously as “beau-frère” (brother-in-law) and as “Beurre-Oeuf-Fromage” (Butter-Egg-Cheese) both meant to evoke an oafish, materialist lack of sensibility.


    • July 18, 2015 at 8:10 am

      Beauf evokes as you say “an oafish, materialist lack of sensibility.” but it also evokes a taste for things like this cicada, or knitted hats to hide a toilet paper roll in a car.

      True, “beauf” is also a colloquial way to say “beau-frère”. It’s not derogative. Well, unless you know Renaud’s song Mon beauf by heart like me and then things get blurry. 🙂


  8. July 18, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Great review – yes, shudder, I can’t imagine anything worse than this kind of gated community. Mind you, a lot of expats live in precisely that particularly in places like Jordan, Dubai and so on. And they seem to love it. But not for me.
    This is the one Garnier translation I haven’t read yet (and I have trouble finding his work in French at the local bookshops and libraries, for some reason), but I’ve heard many people say it’s their favourite. My favourite is ‘How’s the Pain?’ (Comment va la douleur?), which also perfectly illustrates his unique blend of humour, darkness, satire and compassion.


  9. July 21, 2015 at 11:26 am

    It does sound like hell. The cultural notes you give are very handy, as others have said. This is the one I should have gone for first, gated communities make such interesting settings (as in Thursday Night Widows). Count me as another who can’t see the appeal.


    • July 21, 2015 at 10:06 pm

      It’s a good Garnier. I hoped the explanation about the cicada would interest foreign readers.
      I really can’t see the appeal. It’s like being put under glass.


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