book: Blood Wedding (2009; trans 2016 Frank Wynne) by Pierre Lemaitre

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I raved to an embarrassing degree about Lemaitre’s Alex, which, despite being the second book in a trilogy (whose other two volumes have now been translated, though I still haven’t read them*), was his first novel to be translated into English, and then was rather disappointed in his Three Days and a Life. I’m delighted to say that, with Blood Wedding, I’m back to raving about a Pierre Lemaitre novel again.

What a wild ride this one is. When I first picked the book up I groaned to see on the cover that someone (Library Journal, in point of fact) had made the seemingly obligatory comparison to Gone Girl, and prepared to laugh later about how maladroit the comparison was. In fact, for once, I had to concede that the LJ reviewer had a point. There’s a school of psychological thriller that requires the reader to willingly suspend disbelief and just enjoy the ride. A good example is Hitchcock’s VERTIGO (1958), which has all sorts of plot elements that wouldn’t be believable in the real world but work just fine in the movie. Flynn’s Gone Girl falls into that same category. (It may be relevant that I for once preferred the screen adaptation to the original book.) And so does Blood Wedding, which asks us to accept an obsessive who makes Vertigo‘s Scottie look like a mere dabbler.

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Sophie Duguet is a happily married young career woman in Paris until things suddenly begin to go wrong. She starts mysteriously losing items that then even more mysteriously reappear. She’s arrested for shoplifting a bottle of booze that she has no memory even of looking at, far less of stashing in her shopping bag. She misses meetings at work, or discovers at the last minute that her notes for them have vanished. She accidentally posts to the folk at work an explicit photo of herself with her husband, Vincent, that they took for fun. She attributes such misadventures to what she calls her “madness.” The culmination of all these calamities comes when Vincent wraps his car round a tree and then later, in hospital, apparently sends his wheelchair hurtling down a flight of stairs to his death.

She tries to rebuild her life, now as a nanny, but the strange misfortunes continue until one night when it seems, without her having any memory of it at all, she murders the child in her charge. The “madness” again, obviously. On the run, she seemingly commits another murder, again with no recollection of it, this time of a woman who tried to help her . . .

That’s the setup. Of course, we know from the outset (because we know the conventions of fictions like this) that Sophie isn’t the one doing the dreadful things — that someone is cruelly persecuting her. The identity of the persecutor nonetheless startled me when I discovered it. A good chunk of the book is taken up with his journal of the persecution, and it’s hugely rewarding to see how well Lemaitre has worked out the details of, so to speak, the other half of the story.

The obsessive’s motives seemed a little less convincing to me, but this wasn’t sufficiently troubling that it affected my overall enjoyment of the novel, which I devoured with eagerness and passion.

Lemaitre is very well served by Frank Wynne’s translation, although in the latter stages of the tale I could have done without the random alternations between past and present tense: that’s a recognized narrative style in French, I know, but in English it’s just bloody annoying. Again, though, I wasn’t irked by it to the extent that it spoiled my reading of the book.

So the big question is: Which Lemaitre novel do I choose to read next?

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* I’ve just discovered from Wikipedia (which may be right) that in fact it’s a tetralogy, but that one volume seemingly hasn’t yet been translated into English.

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