Quirky and unsettling…
😀 😀 😀 😀
Brice Casadamont has packed his life in boxes to move from Lyon into the country. This wasn’t his idea – he agreed to the move to please his wife, Emma. But now Emma is missing, though Brice keeps hoping each day that she will come back. It’s only gradually that the reader finds out what’s behind Emma’s disappearance. So here he is, on his own, in an empty house with all his belongings in boxes in the garage and without the motivation to unpack, since he knows Emma will want to decide where everything should go when she comes back.
This novella-length story is the first thing of Pascal Garnier’s that I’ve read. It’s a compelling little portrait of a man in grief and denial, gradually sinking into the lethargy and apathy of depression, and coming close to the edge of insanity. But the bleakness is broken up by many touches of humour, which makes it an enjoyable read despite the subject matter. It’s very well written and the translation, by Melanie Florence, is excellent.
Although all the characters are quirky, almost with a touch of the type of strange villagers in a standard horror story, Garnier makes them just about credible. Brice has deliberately isolated himself from his old friends and can’t bring himself to get to work on the illustrations for a children’s book that he was working on before Emma disappeared. Garnier lets us see just enough of his old life through occasional contacts with other people for us to know that he was probably always a bit of a difficult person, but also that his current behaviour is abnormal even for him. Although the book is in the third person, we only see the other characters as they appear to Brice, so they are deliberately vague, leaving the reader in the unsettling position of not quite knowing how much they are being distorted by his state of mind.
There’s a mild feeling of horror about a lot of the descriptions of nature and the countryside too, as Garnier slips from lyricism to brutality and back in the course of single sentences.
Now and again, down from a bird ripped open by a fox in the night was caught by the breeze, rising and falling like snowflakes on the bushes.
It all adds to the off-kilter, disturbing feeling of the whole thing. And then, when it feels it might be getting a bit dark, Garnier will throw in a bit of perfectly timed observational humour…
A little further on, he passed a young mother holding the hand of a little four- or five-year-old girl who was crying and had a hand up to her forehead.
“That’s the way it is, Laura. Some doors open by themselves and some don’t.”
Learning how the world works can be tough.
As Brice settles into his new home – well, into the garage of his new home – he makes friends with the rather strange Blanche, owner of the big house in the village, whose dead father he coincidentally resembles. Blanche has her own grief and denial thing going on, too, and for a while each seems to be good for the other. But Blanche’s protective friend Élie is worried about their growing closeness, and as the story unfolds and the darkness grows, one feels he has good reason. Brice’s only other friend is the stray cat who comes to live with him, bringing a welcome touch of warmth and normality into his life (and making me dreadfully afraid that something truly horrible was going to happen to the cat…).
I loved about 95% of this and then it all became incredibly silly at the end. Fortunately, since the book is short, that wasn’t enough to spoil my overall enjoyment, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Garnier’s work in the near future. Especially since those in the know, like Margot and MarinaSofia, tell me this isn’t one of his best…
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Gallic Books.