Y a-t-il un Français…

Français

Frédéric Dard dit San-Antonio, Y a-t-il un Français dans la boîte à gants ?, Paris, Omnibus, May 2015, ISBN : 9782258116726 .

The two books which have just been published together in the prestigious Omnibus edition are a landmark in the career of France’s most successful crime fiction author. This is where San-Antonio officially meets Frédéric Dard, and where the two faces of the prolific double-author merge. Signed (on their original publication) ‘San-Antonio’, even though the eponymous character of the San-Antonio series does not feature, the books are closer to the dark and despairing atmosphere of the books previously signed ‘Dard’ (the “Romans de la nuit”). Published respectively in 1979 and 1981, one before and one after the election of François Mitterrand, the first socialist President of the 5th Republic, their subject matter is politics. Conspicuously however, they don’t contain any of the huge sense of anticipation which Mitterrand’s election triggered in the social discourse at the time. Rather, they reflect the social unrest and atmosphere of scandals and corruption in the final years of the presidency of Mitterrand’s predecessor, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. They tell the story of an ambitious career politician, who hides a terrible secret, the legacy of an unsavoury past, buried in his home.

Clefs

Les Clefs du pouvoir sont dans la boîte à gants, Paris, Fleuve Noir, O.E., September 1981

Both books were a sensation and many have speculated if, and to what extent, this politician shared traits with François Mitterrand. From a cultural historical perspective, it is notable that San-Antonio, who had for decades professed a disdain for politics, becomes suddenly, in the late 70’s, overtly political. Around the same time, a generation of French authors, heirs to Jean-Patrick Manchette and a few other pioneers like Ryck and Siniac, would represent a brand of committed, left-wing crime fiction, labelled “Néo Polar”. The Series Sanguine (director, Patrick Mosconi) and Engrenages (director, Alex Varoux), where most of them were published, were created in the same year (1979). The trajectories of San-Antonio and this group of authors merely intersect. While the latter would soon be disillusioned by the French Socialist Party practice of government ﹣their engagement counting amongst the forgotten casualties of the Mitterrand years﹣ San-Antonio would go the opposite way, becoming friendly with the President, in both life and his books (Après vous s’il en reste, Monsieur le Président, 1986).

apres-vous

Après vous s’il en reste, Monsieur le Président,  Paris, Fleuve Noir, 3rd Edition, 2007

The two books published together this month in the Omnibus edition are important for San-Antonio on another, material and symbolic level. While the San-Antonio Series were “original paperbacks” (books directly published as paperbacks), and as such, in post-war France, their status as popular literature was displayed immediately, Y a t-il un Français dans la salle and its follow up volume, Les Clefs du pouvoir sont dans la boîte à gants were original hard backs. While the (exactly) hundred novels which had been at this point (1979) published in the San-Antonio series were little, cheap books, the first of these hardbacks suggested that San-Antonio, finally, was writing his big book(s). After 30 years as a paperback writer, the serial entity, the author-narrator San-Antonio could become a writer in his own right, the author of stand-alone novels, freed from the constraints and strictures of the series. These books were not only bigger, they were longer too (the present volume is 878 pages long).They materialised an aspiration of San-Antonio not only to show a darker side (the blurb of Les Clefs consists simply of two epithets applied to the author’s name :  “Sadistic and pathetic San-Antonio“); they revealed an ambition to access the mainstream of general literature. They seemed to indicate an elevation, from the lowbrow of action novels in the American mould to a form of reflective, psychological and middle brow literature, whose purpose was not merely to entertain, but to pass comment on society. The Omnibus edition publishes this book not only under a new title, which merges both novels’s titles, but under a new author name, too: Frédéric Dard dit San-Antonio.  Neither San-Antonio nor Frédéric Dard, this is a fusion of both. This was the name the author had established on his official identification documents. It is also the name mentioned on his grave. The foreword, by film director Jean-Pierre Mocky is a reminder of the 1982 film in which he adapted the story of the two books, and the considerable success it garnered. From a transmedia point of view too, this oeuvre, albeit flawed, was indeed a success. It is one of the few film adaptations of Dard’s work which were genuinely popular.

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