France

Bird in a Cage

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Presented as “The literary descendant of Simenon and Céline” and  as “one of the few twentieth-century authors to win both critical acclaim and great popularity”,  Frédéric Dard (1921-2000)  will be introduced this year to  English readers with some of his darker novels. Pushkin Vertigo will publish, starting in June with Bird in a cage  (Le Monte -charge), and continuing with The Executioner Cries, available in Autumn 2016, a selection of  his romans de la nuit.  It is an euphemism to say, that, some sixty years after their original publication in French, this event has been hugely anticipated. Continue reading

Abstract Landscapes, Train Stations and Crime Fiction: Buffet, Carzou, San-Antonio

 

Carzou rails

Jean Carzou (1907-2000), Les Caténaires, 1967

In a short passage which appears at first glance to encapsulate his populist views on art, bestselling French crime author San-Antonio likens the British Museum, which he professed to hate (“that most abhorrent place on earth, the most sinister ! A quintessential cemetery!”) to the Paris train station Saint-Lazare “with its smell of coal, pee and sweat”. While, according to him, in the Museum’s  “cold light, the work of men becomes inhuman”,  Saint-Lazare station, “full of cries and kisses” reminds him, “with its black beams that crisscross in the smoke” of “a drawing by Carzou”  (San-Antonio, Y’a de l’action,  Paris, Fleuve Noir, 1967; see the original French below). Continue reading

Visions of Paris Suburbs in San-Antonio

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Bernard Buffet (1928-1999), Buildings en banlieue, 1970

San-Antonio, France’s most popular author of crime fiction of the past 50 years, was fascinated with the bleakness of the Parisian suburbs, where he moved to in 1949. His prolific oeuvre documents this morbid fascination, somewhere between horror and nostalgia. His novels are full of notations and recurring observations about the suburban tragic  as the author experienced it. Suspending the investigation he his conducting, the first person narrator, Commissaire San-Antonio turns his attention momentarily to the representation of the surrounding space, the banlieues which were then rapidly sprawling around Paris. Continue reading

Kaput in Argentina

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(Images courtesy of François Kersulec) 

(Click to enlarge)

In 1955-6 Frédéric Dard, the author of the famous, best selling San-Antonio adventures, also published in the same series (Spécial Police, Fleuve Noir) four novels of pure violence, which he signed “Kaput”. This is also the name of the protagonist. Frantically brutal and death-driven, the stories race through their plots straight to the inescapable culmination in the last novel, titled Mise à mort (1956). When republished in France in the 1990s, they  were presented as ” the dark side of an immense writer”. Prior to that, two had been translated into Spanish and published in Argentina in 1964. There, they were advertised as “Mas violento que Rififi!”, presumably capitalizing on the international success of Jules Dassin’s film, rather than on Auguste Le Breton’s original novel (Du Rififi chez les hommes).

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“Books colonize his mind”: Addictive Crime Fiction in Karim Miské’s Arab Jazz

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Most frequent words in the first chapter of Arab Jazz (Viviane Hamy, 2012), click to enlarge

Arab Jazz, Karim Miské’s multi-award winning novel tells the story of an avid reader. Ahmed is a 21st century Don Quixote, who lives in Paris’s multicultural 19th arrondissement and reads modern chivalric romances, i.e. Crime Fiction. He buys books by the kilo, and stores 2.5 tonnes of them in his flat. His local bookshop is the pharmacy where he finds the remedies for his soul. Sure, these remedies contain a dose of poison too. But he needs them, as the horror and the sick imaginations of others allow him to keep the monsters inhabiting his own head at bay. Some of the books are memorable: Ellroy, Tosches, and Manchette. They rank in his consciousness alongside other considerable books, by Baudelaire, Van Gogh, Artaud, and Debord. He equally reads “vast quantities of Anglo-American industrial thrillers, by Connelly, Cornwell, and Cobain; their names are a bit mixed up in his head”. He often has the impression that he reading the same novel, over and over again; which is exactly what he is looking for. He wants to forget about the whole world and immerse himself entirely in a continuous narrative written by others. Until one day a girl’s blood drips down onto his clothes, and real crime re-enters his life.

Karim Miské will read from Arab Jazz at Belfast Book Festival, on Tuesday :

http://whatsonni.com/event/28575-belfast-book-festival-karim-miske-arab-jazz/crescent-arts-centre

Y a-t-il un Français…

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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. Continue reading