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Crawl Space: A Novel Hardcover – July 28, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Meidav embeds the reader in the mind of a narcissistic, self-loathing, obsessive, vengeful narrator—a French Nazi collaborator—whose oddly compelling voice is the achievement of this complex novel (after The Far Field). As prefect of the small town of Finier during WWII, Emile Poulquet zealously helped the Nazis compile lists of Jews for deportation to concentration camps. In 1999, at the age of 84 and after decades as a fugitive, Poulquet eludes conviction in a Paris trial—the intervening years and reconstructive facial surgery make him unidentifiable by witnesses. He then returns to Finier to exact revenge on the object of his obsession, Arianne Fauret, a resistance widow whom he considers a lifelong tormentor. His mad scheme is to make Arianne—who now directs a foundation to reclaim war memory—the executor of his last will and testament, thereby forcing her to accept his version of personal and historical events. Meidav's narrative jumps from Poulquet's wartime years to the more convoluted story of his modern-day return to Finier, when he falls in with a band of misfit teenage squatters, and events come to a head around a wartime memorial event. With a tale both chilling and comical, Meidav considers the struggle to define history. (Aug.)
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Emile takes the train south to Finier. In the train's lavatory he writes his last will to give to his Arianne, a resistance hero's widow, for he expects that upon returning for the first time since he spent a month there in 1960, this will end his odyssey. In Finier, Emile is sidetracked by the town's wartime reunion that touches his withered soul as he knows he can never participate though he obsesses with the need to join even at the cost of his wasted life.
CRAWL SPACE is a deep character study of an octogenarian who knows that even death will not eliminate the guilt that haunts him. His need to "go home" grips readers, but Emile knows that he can never truly go home. Interestingly he feels more remorse over one incident than over sending thousands to their certain death as the latter is more a statistical consequence of his job while the former was caused by his emotions. Edie Meidav does the impossible turning a Nazi butcher into a sympathetic protagonist though the audience will believe he deserves an abode in hell; Emile would affirm that a life with no place to call home is hell.
The novel ties into truths far beyond the words on the page and invites--almost compels--the reader to think. None of this is achieved at the expense of telling an interesting story that is unfolding in the present moment, and through this effective duality of past and present, the author achieves a meaningful exploration of morality, history, culture, the human mind, and most of all the human heart. It is a book worthy of reading more than once and its release in hardcover is an appropriate acknowledgement of its durability.
I'll leave it to other reviewers to spoil the plot for you.