“What I have Written is false. True. Neither true nor false.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre
THE ACCIDENT ON THE A35
- Author: Graeme Macrae Burnet
- Book Release date: 2nd October, 2017
- Pages: 256
- Genre: Crime fiction
- Publisher: Bee Books
The story is set in a small and monotonous french town of Saint Louis. The main plot of the story revolves around three characters- Bertrand Barthelme, Raymond Barthelme (his son) and inspector Georges Gorski. The story starts with death of Bertrand Barthelme in a car accident on A35. Inspector Gorski, who is the detective on this case delivers the news of death of Bertrand to his wife and son Raymond, both of who were seemingly unfazed by the news. Apparently, Barthelme was not supposed to be on A35 as he was supposed to be attending a dinner with his business colleagues at another part of the town. So at the request of Barthelme’s widow, Gorski begins to investigate his activities and whereabouts on the date of his death. Around such investigation and its findings the plot revolves and expands.
The story progresses at a calmer pace as compared to other crime fiction novels and takes its time to develop the characters, surroundings and mood of the story. The descriptions and observations are beautifully described and the feelings and thoughts of the characters are striking. I was able to list out a few examples of such a descriptive style of writing which caught me completely off guard and surprised me with their poetic nature.
To list out a few examples from Inspector Gorski’s point of view, who was having a failing marriage and was slowly seeming to develop an alcohol problem-
“He sat down on the sofa and was asleep within minutes. The bottle of beer slipped from his hand and emptied its contents onto the carpet.”
“Barthelme’s body, like his car, was no more than a piece of evidence. The fact that one was composed of tissue, skin and bone and the other of metal, glass and plastic, was immaterial.”
“Gorski had no time for the idea of human nature. It was a meaningless idea people used to absolve themselves of responsibilities.”
On the other hand, Raymond after the death of his father suddenly finds a new freedom for which he is not accountable to anyone. He undergoes major behavioural changes and follows his instincts many times by stealing, smoking, drinking, indulging in sexual pleasures. His relationship with his father was very strained and following are some thoughts that Raymond would occasionally dwell on-
“Until this point he had accepted, as all children do, the image that his father presented to the world. But this scrap of paper written in feminine hand represented a crack in that facade.”
“From an early age, Raymond had learnt to expect little from his father. If he had given up trying to please him, it was to protect himself from the disappointment he felt when his approval was not forthcoming.”
There is a lot of commentary on the smaller town of Saint Louis and the narrator often would compare the pros and cons of living in such town.
“The smaller the town, the more inward-looking its residents. Fewer people arrive and settle in our smallest towns. Change if it occurs at all, takes place over generations. The citizenry become set in their ways and anyone deviating from these norms is made to understand one way or another that they are not welcome.”
“Larger cities are awash with crime. They are filthy and dilapidated. Vagrants and blacks grasp your wrists as you pass, begging for a few centimes. Drug deals and whores peddle their trade in unlit alleyways, eager to lure your children into life of ruination.”
The story unfolds in quite expected manner and there are no sudden plot twists and turns to throw off the reader. But the thing that appealed to me in this this book was not the story but the beautiful and descriptive style of writing. This book is certainly not the one which should be read with pre-conceived notions of crime fiction book and is for the people who enjoy sophisticated and artful reading.
There is nothing dark or troubling about the plot of the book and is fairly predictable. This could be the reason why some people might struggle to finish the book.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is not the story itself but the context in which the story was written. The Foreword of the book starts with-
“When L’accident sur L’A35 appeared in France in the spring of 2016, the press coverage focused less on the merits of the book than on the question of to what extent it was a work of fiction.”
In the shrewd marketing of the book, The editors also encouraged readers to see the work as thinly veiled autobiography of Raymond Brunet, also the author of “The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau”. Although how much of it is fact from fiction, remains up for debate.
Overall, the book gives a great literary and poetic experience and I would definitely recommend.
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