Monday 3 March 2014

The A26 by Pascal Garnier

My first Pascal Garnier read, and far from a disappointment. It was chosen in the pursuit of another example of behaviourist POV (it seems to be a particularly popular choice in French fiction, you see), although on reading I found that The A26 didn't employ a very strict use of the perspective. Thoughts from the main characters were divulged in a number of places, and little was withheld from the reader.

And yet it still makes for an interesting study. At multiple points in the book there is a very definite narrative disconnect. In the opening chapter, for example, Yolande is described as "anywhere from twenty to seventy" and "You would catch a glimpse of her sometimes in a way she had of sitting down, tugging her skirt over her knees, of running a hand through her hair, a surprisingly graceful movement in that wrinkled skin glove." A powerful picture of an aging woman, and very much one from the author's perspective rather than Yolande's. This style of description pops up throughout and serves to present the characters, almost like displays in a glass case.

Especially in Yolande, this style contributes to a separation from the real world. Her self-imposed isolation is tempered only by the fact that her brother, Bernard, lives in the same house as her. But he's not really company. More of an enabler of her strange behaviour. He entertains her, provides for her, goes out to get the groceries that she won't leave the house for. But he won't be around to act as Yolande's carer for much longer. It is quickly revealed that he is terminally ill, and not for this world much longer.

And this illness provides a freedom for Bernard that allows him to take on a perverse crusade along the developing A26 motorway that is being constructed close to his house.

The A26 is an odd little book, but incredibly captivating. It's an addictive read and a fascinating insight into a couple of very damaged people. This is not a story that will provide a satisfactory resolution to crime, but rather it explores how the deeds themselves can punish the perpetrators. I loved it for its ugliness, and will read more Garnier quite soon, no doubt.

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