She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

A study of evil…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Fernand Ravinel is a travelling salesman, often away from the home he shares with his wife, Mireille. This makes it easy for him to spend time with his lover, Lucienne. But, in time, the pair decide this isn’t enough – that Mireille has to be got rid of. And so they set out to murder her. Their plot at first looks like it’s going to be successful, but then a strange thing happens, and gradually everything starts to go wrong… and as it does so, Fernand’s mind begins to unravel.

This book comes with a request from the authors for readers to tell nothing about the plot so as not to spoil it for other readers, so I’ve restricted my little introduction to slightly less than is given in the publisher’s blurb. In essence, the book concentrates on Ravinel’s state of mind, showing how guilt and remorse soon knock him off his emotional balance, sending him on a spiral into delusion, depression and finally threatening even his sanity. But there’s also a mystery element that stops this being a simple character study – something strange is happening and, while Ravinel in his delusional state is willing to consider a supernatural element, the reader is left looking for a rational explanation.

Narcejac and Boileau

Unsurprisingly in a man who is plotting to murder his wife, Ravinel is not a sympathetic character. He’s self-obsessed, rather cold emotionally, seeming unable to truly love either of the women in his life, and he’s something of a hypochondriac. But although this makes it pretty much impossible to empathise with him, it still leaves him as a fascinating subject for a character study. Boileau-Narcejac use his weaknesses and character flaws brilliantly to create a compelling picture of a man driven to the edge of insanity. They are the authors who wrote Vertigo on which the Hitchcock film is based, and there are some similarities between the books. Both blur the line between villain and victim, concentrating on the effects on the central character’s mind as he is drawn into a plot that spirals out of his control, and both veer close to mild horror novel territory as he gradually loses his grip on reality. And both are dark, indeed.

For me, this one isn’t quite as strong as Vertigo. Mainly, this is because the solution seems pretty obvious from fairly early on which takes away some of the suspense. It still leaves it an intriguing and enjoyable read though, partly because it’s so well written and partly because it’s less clear how the story will be allowed to play out. As strange events lead Ravinel to become more disturbed, there’s a truly chilling effect – it’s easy to understand why he is so badly affected by them. Both the Boileau-Narcejac books I’ve read have been fundamentally about evil, but they seem to see weakness of character as an integral part of that evil, so that the books are less about the incidents and more about the psychological impact they have on the perpetrator.

I trust I’ve been vague enough to suit the authors and if you’re now wondering what on earth this review is going on about, I can only suggest you read the book! It has also been made into a film more than once, but the consensus seems to favour the 1955 Clouzot version, Les Diaboliques, which I am now looking forward to watching…

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Book 12 of 90

55 thoughts on “She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

  1. As you were outlining the plot, I thought it sounded familiar, now I think I’ve seen Les Diaboliques but managed to forget almost all of it! At least it will make a re-watch or reading the book suspenseful! My memory really is appalling.

    • Ha! Even if you watch the film again it still won’t be a spoiler for the book! I’m not sure why all these directors seem determined to totally change the plots. 😉 However, the film is excellent too…

    • Ha! If anything, I think Hitch may have stuck far closer to the book in Vertigo than Clouzot did in Les Diaboliques! However, both book and film are very good, so I forgive him… 😉

  2. The book is nearly always better than the film,and it sounds as though this one has a lot to offer, FictionFan. And I know just what the authors mean by requesting that people not reveal too much. There are books like that, where saying very much gets quickly into spoiler-land…

    • Indeed! Though in this case, the film is so different from the book it’s almost like watching a different story. Both are excellent, I think. Yes, this book in particular is very dependent on not knowing how it plays out, so I could see their point…

    • Thank you! 😀 Ha! I usually try to avoid spoilers anyway, but I could see what they meant in this one – if too much was given away, it would spoil the effect…

  3. Hmm, I’ve never heard authors request that the plot is kept a secret so as not to spoil things for their readers. Most of what I’ve read advises giving a brief synopsis to tickle their interest. I’ll have to ponder that a bit. Rest assured, you’ve abided by their wishes, FF!

    • I suspect it might have been a bit of a sales gimmick back in the day, but I could see their point with this one – the effect of the book depends very much on not knowing what happens. And they do give enough in the blurb about them planning to murder the wife to whet the appetite…

  4. The brother gave me Les Diaboliques as a present. It wasn’t a film I would necessarily have chosen, but it was excellent.

    • I watched it after writing this review and thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the subtitles! Must say it’s very different from the book though… comparison coming if I can ever work out how to do it without major spoilers….

  5. Please tell me you’ve read Strangers in a Train by Patricia Highsmith. It covers the same sort of examination of victim vs villain, insanity vs reality, and is a wickedly readable plot!

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