Hélène Gestern in conversation with Gerard Brennan at No Alibi’s Bookstore (May 2, 2014)

French author Hélène Gestern meets Belfast based writer Gerard Brennan. When not writing her novels  Gestern teaches and researches in the field of linguistics at the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and sits on the editorial committee of a literary review dedicated to autobiographical writing. When not writing his,  Gerard Brennan is a member of the International Crime Fiction Research Group and prepares a PhD  at Queen’s University.

Both authors have already a considerable output and have received many accolades.

The People in the Photo, Hélène Gestern’s book, is published in English by Gallic books (in June 2014) and translated from the French by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz. It was her first novel, published in France 2011 and a real hit, receiving excellent reviews. It won more than 20 literary awards. It draws upon her interests in photography and archive. It was recommended by the French Le Magazine Littéraire as ‘A wonderful book about the archaeology of memory’ . Her second novel already published in France, with the same publisher, Arléa deals too with memories and post-memories. Its polysemic title La Part du feu is revealing : ( literally the part of fire, figuratively in French, cut your losses).  It is about retaining and letting go, about looking for light and facing the risk of being burnt. Both novels are investigations made by adults on the years of their childhood, on the spirit and the politics of a time when they were not yet born or they were too young to understand. Both engage with patterns of the mystery genre, in a way Patrick Modiano novels do, linking a search for a missing person with that of a bygone area and with questions about identity.  The archive is an all-important paradigm. Both Gestern’s novels to date are testimonial in nature; both ask questions on the legacy left by the protagonists’s parents.  While the second novel is more explicitly dealing with uncovering an old crime, the first probes more the crime genre’s boundaries by mixing it with, notably, the epistolary novel, and the email novel. This hybridation achieves interesting effects in terms of suspense (caused for example by the uncertainties and the delays between exchanges). 

Gerard Brennan is one of the youngest representative authors of the Irish nouveau roman noir, the blossoming field of Irish Noir fiction. Like other well know Irish Noir authors, from John Connolly, to Declan Hughes, to Eoin McNamee, Colin Bateman and John Banville he is a familiar presence in No Alibis bookshop. Like other authors of the younger generation such as Brian McGilloway and Stuart Neville, he too has found inspiration both from the great books available here and from David Torrans tireless support. Gerard Brennan is the author already of an impressive number of  fast paced, catchy and admirably written novels such as THE POINT and WEE ROCKETS and novellas such as Bounce which stand out especially for the authenticity of their settings and accuracy of their dialogues. Fellow authors such as Adrian McKinty predict him a “stellar literary career”. Stuart Neville praises him as an author who “stands apart in Irish crime fiction with his rootedness in the reality of today’s Belfast” and “a unique voice among contemporary Irish writers.”

Gerard Brennan is also well known for his blog, crimesceneni, “The spot where, blogs about reading, writing and anything else that takes his fancy”.


He devoted a review to The People in the Photo : here is an excerpt, the rest at



Parisian archivist Hélène knows very little about her mother, Nathalie, who died when she was four. In the hope of learning more, she places a newspaper advert calling for information on Nathalie and two unknown men pictured with her at a tennis tournament in 1971. Against the odds, she receives a response from Stéphane, a Swiss biologist: his father is one of the people in the photo. More letters, and more photos, pass between them, in an attempt to unearth the truth their parents kept from them. But as they piece together events from the past, will they discover more than they can actually deal with? This dark yet moving drama, deftly explores the themes of blame and forgiveness, identity and love

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