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Fatale (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – April 26, 2011

3.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942–1995) was a genre-redefining French crime novelist, screenwriter, critic, and translator. Born in Marseille to a family of relatively modest means, Manchette grew up in a southwestern suburb of Paris, where he wrote from an early age. While a student of English literature at the Sorbonne, he contributed articles to the newspaper La Voix Communiste and became active in the national students’ union. In 1961 he married, and with his wife, Mélissa began translating American crime fiction—he would go on to translate the works of such writers as Donald Westlake, Ross Thomas, and Margaret Millar, often for Gallimard’s Série noire. Throughout the 1960s Manchette supported himself with various jobs writing television scripts, pornographic screenplays, young-adult books, and film novelizations. In 1971 he published his first novel, a collaboration with Jean-Pierre Bastid, and embarked on his literary career in earnest, producing ten subsequent works over the course of the next two decades and establishing a new genre of French novel, the néo-polar (distinguished from traditional detective novel, or polar, by its political engagement and social radicalism). During the 1980s, Manchette published celebrated translations of Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novels for a bandes-dessinée publishing house co-founded by his son, Doug Headline. In addition to Fatale, Manchette’s novels Three to Kill and The Prone Gunman, as well as Jacques Tardi’s graphic-novel adaptations of them (titled West Coast Blues and Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot, respectively), are available in English.

Donald Nicholson-Smith’s translations of noir fiction include Manchette’s Three to Kill, Thierry Jonquet’s Mygale (a.k.a. Tarantula), and (with Alyson Waters) Yasmina Khadra’s Cousin K. He has also translated works by Guy Debord, Paco Ignacio Taibo II , Henri Lefebvre, Antonin Artaud, and Guillaume Apollinaire. Born in Manchester, England, he is a longtime resident of New York City.

Jean Echenoz is a prominent French novelist, many of whose works have been translated into English, among them Chopin’s Move (1989), Big Blondes (1995), and most recently Ravel (2008) and
Running (2009).

Review

“Manchette is legend among all of the crime writers I know, and with good reason: his novels never fail to stun and thrill from page one.”
—Duane Swierczynski, Author of Expiration Date

“Manchette called crime novels ‘the great moral literature of our time.’ Manchette pushes the Situationist strategy of dérive and détournement to the point of comic absurdity, throwing a wrench into the workings of their main characters’ lives and gleefully recording the anarchy that results.”
—Jennifer Howard, Boston Review

“Cool, compact, and shockingly original.”
—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times

“In France, which long ago embraced American crime fiction, thrillers are referred to as polars. And in France the godfather and wizard of polars is Jean-Patrick Manchette. . . . [H]e’s a massive figure. . . . There is gristle here, there is bone.” —The Boston Globe

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 98 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173813
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173817
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This compact roman noir starts off with a bang. It grabbed me from the very first chapter and kept on going. J.P. Manchette's gothic detailing and invention of the driven, single-minded character of Aimee Joubert is a little gem. Its plotting, its cynicism, and its deadly main character reminded me of Stieg Larsson's trilogy. Aimee would find a friend in Lisbeth Salander. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if Larsson knew this book. The plot is loaded with crazed characters, most of whom are rich and despicable. They are parodies of "leading" town citizens: rich corrupt businessmen, a nasty reporter, an adulterous town doctor, a pompous real estate agent, and so on. Aimee, who has already changed her identity six or seven times before arriving at Bleville, where the town motto is KEEP YOUR TOWN CLEAN!, hates them all and spends her time trying to discover the easiest way to exploit their petty conflicts for her own enrichment. I laughed out loud at some of the ridiculous plot twists and absurd deaths sprinkled throughout the book. And the character of The Baron is a fine study of an alienated, debauched, uninhibited lunatic who is hated by everyone. The final pages are a riot! What's also essential for the reader is the Afterword by Jean Echenoz. It's a must-read piece of analysis and shows you how much Manchette accomplishes in just 90 pages (the type is small, though). Recommended for jaded readers with a sense of humor.
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Format: Paperback
When reviewing a crime novel it's normally pretty easy to come up with a comparable author or book. Not in this case. Fatale is blunt, brief and brutal; its style brings to mind comics or graphic novels, or a particularly vicious B-movie. That's not to say it's junky or pulpy; this is a proper novel, with crisp, direct prose and a mandate to put the boots to the French upper middle-class.

The central character is Aimee, an attractive woman who travels from town to town infiltrating the local upper crust and then blackmails them once she's found out their dirty secrets. Oh, and she also usually murders her victims after she's got the cash. Aimee arrives in Bleville, a coastal town in northern France, and soon finds that there's no shortage of victims for her blackmail scheme. The denouement finds Aimee facing off against a gang of Bleville's notables. The body count is very high.

A synopsis of the plot can make this novel sound ludicrous and sensational, but that's clearly not what Manchette was striving for. Fatale is almost a schematic of how the upper bourgeoisie acts and reacts to threats and temptations. Aimee is partly an avenging angel and partly a victim of bourgeois culture. She, like a good capitalist, sees society purely in terms of its utility to her: what parts of it can be used to her profit, what parts can be eliminated because they hinder her. In short, Aimee's motivating philosophy would seem to be exploit others before they exploit you.

Fatale is definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea. It's bleak and cruel, and the tone of the writing is dry and sometimes startlingly matter-of-fact. Machette wrote a handful of other novels but not many of them seem to be available in English.

Read more of my reviews at JettisonCocoon dot com.
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Format: Paperback
In this short but violent French noir thriller, a Female assassin travels to a French seaside town, where she insinuates herself into elite society in order to exploit internecine rivalries among the elites for her own profit. At a mere 90 pages, this is more a novella than a novel, and the chapters are correspondingly short, usually 3 to 6 pages. The first few chapters are fast paced, and do a good job of introducing Aimee, the female assassin. The middle of the book drags a bit as the somewhat contrived and implausible scheme is developed. But the plot is essentially just a vehicle to get to the bloody denouement of the final two chapters. I don't know if Quentin Tarantino was a fan of Manchette, but with its pulp noir imagery and as a graphic celebration of the violent self-destruction of corrupt groups and individuals, this work certainly seems like it could have been an influence on some of his films.

Overall, I can only give this book a lukewarm recommendation. Fans of pulp crime fiction and Quentin Tarantino films may enjoy this as a "quick read". Most of the supporting characters are little more than generic cardboard cut-outs: the greedy corporate bad guys, the corrupt police captain, the slimy tabloid reporter sniffing out dirt on everyone. The reader must also be able to overlook certain inconsistancies in the behavior of the lead character, as well as the contrivances of the plot.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Without dwelling on the length of this book, let us agree to call it a novella. As such, it should have the same compactness of a short story or intensity. If you are troubled by the ending of this book or its format, think about Luis Bunuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Jean-Pierre Melville's films, La Femme Nikita etc.

Typical of many French works, this is heavy on atmospherics which delghtfully disguise theory. Remember this is a French work and they are the race that gave us Descartes and Sartre. Briefly this is a tale of a female hit woman who improbably finds employment by insinuating herself among the bourgeoisie, observing them, and subtly suggesting to them that she may know someone who can help them. And away we go.

However anyone who wishes to learn to write well should pay particular attention to the first several page of the book and the final scene which takes place between our anti-hero Aimee Joubert and the entire ruling elite of the town. It is some of the best fast-paced action sequences which you will come upon.
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