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Soleil Noir

April 4, 2011 17 comments

Dispatching Baudelaire, by Ken Bruen. Translated into French by Marie Ploux and Catherine Cheval.

I decided to read Ken Bruen after Guy’s post about London Boulevard. I thought I would like his style as the quote “she was an expensive sixty” stayed with me. “Expensive sixty”: you can see everything in two simple words: the Botox, the make-up, the manicure, the pricey clothes, the constant diet, the hours spent at the hairdresser’s, the beautician’s… That’s exactly the kind of style I enjoy, short sentences made of odd and powerful association of words. I ordered Dispatching Baudelaire online, because of the “Baudelaire” in the title. So it was a blind date between this book and me. And what did I get? A CPA going wild in a plot involving Baudelaire and a lot of literary references. Wait, what’s the famous phrase again? Life’s little ironies.

So how does a CPA named Mike go wild according to Ken Bruen? He looses his pants. First, he rebels against suit pants and buy jeans. There’s a hilarious scene where the anti-hero asks where the crease is as he tries the jeans on. Second, he sleeps with an unbalanced girl he hardly knows. When the steady and dull Mike meets the firework Laura in a pub, he has a fatal crush on her. Going to her place, he meets there her crazy and dangerous father Harold. Harold is obsessed by Baudelaire, his relationships with women, his poetry and his vision of life. He is also extremely rich and powerful. Several little incidents make Mike understand that his life is now controlled by Harold who has connections everywhere. Mike comes to the conclusion he needs to kill Harold to be free again.

The English title has a double-meaning (1) as dispatching corresponds to all the quotes by Baudelaire scattered in the novel and also means “killing Harold”, the ultimate goal in Mike’s life.  This book is funny, full of crazy actions and rhythm. I had a great time reading it and the entertainment was welcome after La Cousine Bette and before resuming What Maisie Knew.  

The translation was wonderful, probably not faithful to the word as there were a lot of play-on-words in French. I suppose the two translators managed to transfer the equivalent witty sentences in French. Despite the French, I got lost on one page, when Mike talks about a sport with references I didn’t get. A few pages later, I eventually understood it was cricket. That’s the only flaw of the novel: I think Ken Bruen uses too many references to contemporary people or events as well as too many British innuendos sometimes impossible to get for foreigners. Fortunately there were relevant footnotes from the translators. I would have missed that if I had read the book in English. The matter “read in English or get a translation” remains really tricky, reading this one in French was better. The problem is that I know in which language I should read a book after reading it.  

(1) Special thanks to my personal slang-central, I would have missed the double meaning of the English title without him. 

PS: The title of this post Soleil Noir comes from Baudelaire. He invented this oxymoron to describe his black mistress Jeanne Duval, with whom he had a tempestuous and poisonous relationship. Click here to see her portrait by Manet. (Soleil Noir means Black Sun or Noir Sun if I take into account the two meanings of “noir” in French)

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