Friday, February 03, 2006

These days I seem to read more and more crime novels in translation. To me, a lot of American crime fiction just doesn't surprise me like it used to. Though, of course, I always look forward to the latest by the likes of Pelecanos, Crumley, etc.. I've recently finished Thierry Jonquet's Tarantula (Serpents Tail, UK, City Lights, US). Originally published as Mygale in France (1995) and the US, this is a short, dark story about a doctor with a penchant for cosmetic surgery, and the woman he imprisons in his isolated chateau. There are shades here of Sade and Highsmith, as well as Jim Thompson. It's definitely not for the faint-hearted, even if the finale remains somewhat predictable. Still, it is probably the best French crime fiction in translation I've read since the two recent Jean-Patrick Manchette novels (also published in the US by City Lights). Jonquet is less of a formalist than Manchette, yet both were influenced by May 68 and French leftist politics. Moreover, both deploy a form found less often in the US and UK, where crime fiction has assumed a considerably larger canvas. In contrast, many French noirists prefer shorter narratives that move by their own momentum. The closest equivalent in the US would be James Sallis, yet even he tends to opt for a more complex and discordant type of novel. Yet this more grandiose form is a fairly recent phenomenon, unheard of back in the days of Thompson and Goodis, both of whom deployed a shorter form thanks to the restrictions imposed by paperback publishers such as Lion and Gold Medal. By contrast, the French have continued this tradition. Not only Jonquet and Manchette, but any number of writers, including Carriere (The Adversary) and Franz Bartelt (Le Jardin du Bossu), whose work owes as much to Serie Noire fiction, and its requirements regarding length and pace, as to the golden age of film noir.

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