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The Islanders Paperback – June 9, 2015
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‘Garnier’s sly, cynical take on life after retirement will strike a chord with readers of every age.’ - Publishers Weekly
‘Ultimately a very dark novel, but a very impressive one…' - The Complete Review
‘ … dark enough to sink the hook deep into fans of noir.’ - Publishers Weekly
‘Pascal Garnier produces a story of infinite grace -- a compact piece filled with quirky imagery, plot and characters.’ - Iloveamysterynewsletter.com
‘Garnier’s take on the frailty of life has a bracing originality.’ – Sunday Times
‘Bleak, often funny, and never predictable’ – Guardian
'A brilliant exercise in grim and gripping irony, it makes you grin as well as wince.' The Sunday Telegraph
'For those with a taste for Georges Simenon or Patricia Highsmith, Garnier's recently translated oeuvre will strike a chord … While this is an undeniably steely work, his translator Melanie Florence does justice to the author's occasional outbreaks of dark humour that suddenly pierce through the clouds of encroaching existential gloom.' The Independent
'This is tough, bloody stuff, but put together with a cunning intelligence.' The Sunday Times
About the Author
Pascal Garnier was a leading figure in contemporary French literature, in the tradition of Georges Simenon. He lived in a small village in the Ardeche. He died in March 2010.
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Short, dark and disturbing .... at times I felt like I was a witness to an impending car crash, but was unable to look away. It's hard to turn the pages when you're peering through fingertips that are half-covering your eyes!
We meet Olivier in the aftermath of his mother's death. Olivier is a recovering alcoholic. Crossing paths with childhood friend, Jeanne who lives in the same building as his mother, soon sees Olivier with his head back in the bottle.
A 20 year-old secret: a blind, controlling and jealous brother; a nosey, interfering neighbour, a tramp....plenty of alcohol and plenty of time in Jeanne's company, with the manipulative Rodolphe seething in the background and you sense we may not have a happy ending. Garnier doesn't disappoint.
I'm loathe to reveal too much of the narrative, I'll leave well alone - offering a few snippets that caught my eye.......
Olivier on the train journey.....
A girl tottered down the aisle. Nice bum, nice shaved head, as if she knew she was pretty enough to get away with making herself ugly.
The first black doll went on sale when she was twelve. She was sorry not to have had one, but it was too late by then. That was the age she became old overnight. One morning she got up and her toys no longer spoke to her. She touched them, turned them over in her hands as if seeing them for the first time, and began to cry. Her childhood had run away during the night.
Our homeless dude.....
Roland thought the frescos and sculptures representing hell were a hundred times more appealing than the pale, cold depictions of heaven.
Great story - dark and memorable, populated with troubled, destructive characters, presented at a perfect length with a smooth narrative courtesy of a superb translation from Emily Boyce.
Another compelling 5 star French read!
Pascal Garnier sadly died in 2010. Gallic books are keeping his memory alive with their English translations of his compelling books - 6 so far with another due out this year.
The Panda Theory (2012)
How's the Pain? (2012)
The A26 (2013)
Moon in a Dead Eye (2013)
The Front Seat Passenger (2014)
The Islanders (2014)
Thanks to Gallic books for my copy of The Islanders.
Pascal Garnier left us a few great examples of French crime fiction before he died. I reviewed here Moon in a Dead Eye, and I definitely plan to read more by him. In case you are not in the mood for some rosy romance, but for something much more noir and meaty, go no further, The Islanders will perfectly fit the bill!
The plot focuses on four characters:
Olivier is married to Odile. Two years before the book opens, he went through a detox treatment. We meet him first on the train to Paris: his mother just died, and he gets there for the funerals. The severe winter conditions will require him of staying in her apartment longer than expected
Jeanne is living in an apartment next to Olivier’s mother. He knocks on her door one day to check something in the phone book, and big surprise: he is face to face with the girl he had a serious affair with, twenty year before! Well, more than an affair...
Rodolphe is blond and obese. He is Jeanne’s brother and lives at her place.
Roland is homeless. He meets Rodolphe by accident, and Rodolphe invites him at his place.
Oh, and la concierge Madeleine!! essential omnipresent French character!!
The four decide one night to have a party together. With lots of consequences…
I really can’t tell you more about the plot without revealing too much.
I really enjoy Garnier’s writing. I’m not too sure how he does it: it’s almost minimalist, it cuts to the point, there’s nothing too much, but just enough to twist together very interesting stories.
In this novel, he tackles the topic of solitude and homelessness at different levels: you may be homeless without a roof above your head, like Roland. But you may have an apartment and still never feel at home, always imagine and dream of a faraway island where things would be so much better than what you have right now. And if you got to that island, would you really be able to escape misery?
Add to that the fact of hopelessness, maybe due to some physical hardships, such as blindness or obesity, or alcoholism, and things get even more complex and noir. Anger and violence relentlessly get to Garnier’s characters, like a monster they can never fully tame, like their darkest hours in their past that eventually catch up with them, whether they remember them or not.
There is no standard which says one must like the characters in a novel. Good thing. There’s no one to like here. Olivier, the main male character, is a weak alcoholic who, with his accomplice Jeanne, falls to the dark depths of depravity.
Since this was my first read of a Garnier work, it took me about ¾ of the way through the short novella to actually find an interest in it. While very well written, although wish strange British-English-language translated slang phrases from time to time (like use of the word “blimey”), it was still hard for me to pick it up time after time to continue. Finally, though about 90 pages in, I was sufficiently engrossed to finish it.
No one in the story has a strong sense of self, let alone an adherence to societal norms and ethos. Alcohol plays a key role in the downfall of the primary characters. Common decency is an absent characteristic. The role of childhood past bad deeds of course plays a big part in the ultimate demise of the main characters.
It’s a story to be admired, I suppose, rather than liked. I’m still not sure if I even admire it, however, since it caused in me a revulsion I rarely experience while reading.
Therefore, it is tough to rate this one. I’ll just cave in and give it a 3, if for no other reason than admiration for the author’s chutzpah.