An encouraging article by Dalya Alberge in The Observer marks the first publication in English of one of the “Novels of the night” (romans de la nuit) by Frédéric Dard. The much anticipated Bird in a Cage, (Le Monte Charge), translated by David Bellos, is out this month, published by Pushkin Vertigo. Continue reading
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
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
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
Arsène Lupin Versus Holmlock Shears (Translation : Alexander Teixeira De Mattos), London, Grant Richards Ltd., 1910 (fac simile)
Arsène Lupin was conceived as an anti-Sherlock Holmes. Both characters rely on their intellect, but, in Leblanc’s stories the gentleman -burglar trumps the maverick detective. Leblanc’s Holmes (or rather, Sholmes) is both an homage to Doyle’s character and a deliberate parody. This is evident in one of the first Lupin short stories, ironically titled “Herlock Sholmes arrives too late”. This parodic intention is reflected in both the American and the English titles of two collections of short stories : Arsène Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes, in the 1910 American translation by George Morehead), and in the above English translation by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos : Arsène Lupin Versus Holmlock Shears, which chose a slightly different, but no less obviously parodic, name.
The original first English edition (London, Grant Richards Ltd., 1909)
(Images from Didier Poiret’s collections)
Peter Cheyney (1896-1951) was the first author published in the Série Noire, in 1945. Marcel Duhamel, the series’ director had translated two of his books during the war. His success in France got the Series off to a good start and many more of his novels were published as part of it. Nonetheless, the Série Noire fetishized noir novels and did not publish short stories. This is why the collection No ordinary Cheyney, translated as Du pas banal, by Jean Weil (Paris, 1949) was published with a different publisher, the newly created “Presses de la cité”, which was soon to become an arch-rival for Gallimard’s Série Noire. Duhamel’s dilemma was to either sacrifice his ideas for the series, and risk disorienting his readers; or strengthen a dynamic competitor with an author who was the international best seller of the time. That Duhamel chose the principles and the series’ unity might explain how he succedded in creating and maintaining such a distinctive and long lasting identity.
(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).
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; or, in other words, Crime Fiction as Chandler told us. 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 gets the impression that he is 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 :
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
Dico Dard, selected by Pierre Chalmin, Fleuve Editions, 2015
Crime literature is judgemental. About crime and evil, of course. But also about places, people, times and the weather. Colourful metaphors and flippant comments have long formed part of the Noir stylistic horizon. Noir was recognised as a style before it was theorised as a genre. Chandler and his Chandlerisms, and Peter Cheyney and his far-fetched simile have contributed to enrich crime fiction with lively dialogues, and memorable pronouncements.
For an author like Frédéric Dard, who devoted more than 40 000 pages to telling the adventures of a fictional character, the legendary Commissaire San-Antonio from the Paris Police, aphorisms are strategic instances. Their laconism and directness contrasts with the profusion of the surrounding text. They emerge from the convoluted detective plot as referential anchors. They impress their own rhythm to the narration. They create a mood, and a mode which influence the reading. Their distance, humour, self deprecation, terseness and provocation are all essential part of the reading experience. Continue reading