Tissue papering over the Abyss
Pascal Garnier’s Too Close To The Edge is so far away from being my usual kind of read that I can’t love it (quite shockingly violent) but it is such a wonderfully executed piece of terse, brutal, beautifully written, shocking crime fiction that I have to strongly recommend it to crime fiction lovers! And it is also very funny, though just as the reader is laughing at the savage humour the writer introduces shocks that had this reader feeling remarkably shaken.
As in all the places where Napoleon had left a strand of hair, the Relais de L’Empereur was decorated with golden bees, wall hangings and furniture of uncertain age, and peopled with staff so practised at bending and scraping that an avant-garde choreographer would have applauded them
Garnier also managed the balance of sometimes dreadful brutality, not pulling his punches – and yet at the same time, not indulging gratuitously and unrealistically, in the way lesser writers often do – too many shots, too many impossibly graphic wounds and still they keep fighting, Hollywood style. In some ways, Garnier’s blunt depictions of brutality were worse, because they seemed possible and accurate
I may not read another Garnier (though who can tell) but it is purely because I have too active an imagination and quite a sensitive stomach
Éliette is a still vital woman in her 60s. She and her husband moved to a rural retreat, following his retirement. Unfortunately, Charles died, fairly suddenly, through illness. She misses him; they had a good and passionate marriage, and she also misses touch, and sex. Her grown-up children have their own busy lives, live elsewhere, and arrogantly assume Éliette is past it
A chance encounter with a good Samaritan when she has a puncture on a lonely road leads her to invite Étienne, the similarly aged Samaritan, to her home. Éliette has been aware of her longing for sex, and she finds Étienne, who is quite mysterious, rather alluring
In the vegetable aisle, she blushed as it dawned on her she had filled her trolley with courgettes, aubergines, carrots, cucumbers and even an enormous long white turnip weighing nearly 300 grams, which she struggled to make herself see in a culinary light. It was stronger than she was; a kind of inflammation of her mind was slowly turning the supermarket into a sex shop
Then a tragedy befalls her nearest neighbours, another couple of similar age. One of their sons is tragically killed in a car crash.
And that is just the start of a rapid spiral out from the settled, safe, bland normality of Éliette’s life, and into an abyss of darkness, violence, and crime
What I really valued in Garnier was this uncovering of perfectly normal, law abiding people. Happenstance and coincidence bring unlikely events and personalities together, and the wheels of a safe and stable life suddenly find they have moved to the wrong side of the track, and the destination is not going to be ‘peacefully died in her sleep, mourned by her children and grandchildren’ as the total description of a long, uneventful, unexceptional life. That might have been the destination Éliette and her friends and family would imagine for her, so placid and unremarkable has her life been.
I received this as a digital review copy from Gallic Press, via NetGalley. Gallic are, or have been publishing many of Garnier’s titles, translated from the French by Emily Boyce. I didn’t find myself picking up on what seemed awkwardness, so can only assume Boyce’s translation captres the feel of Garnier’s language and style. It certainly feels smooth, in the way strictly literal word-for-word translations rarely do.
In his native France, Garnier, who died in 2010, was often compared to Georges Simenon. I found myself thinking of Patricia Highsmith, another very classy crime writer indeed. Garnier has an extra turn of the mordant humour before the killer punch screw, I feel
This is published on April 1st, Kindle and Paperback in the UK, and available to download on that date in the States, though paper copies will not be available till June 14th
A final thanks must go to FictionFan, who alerted me to Garnier through her fine review of another Garnier, The A26, which sounded intriguing. She did say (knowing my wimpishness around violence and gore) that she thought it might not be quite my thing. On one level, she is absolutely right – but his writing is so good, his characterisations and narrative so skilful, AND he left me thinking – that I shall survive the shock and gore, with several cups of chamomile tea and some good quality dark chocolate batons