Fabien and Sylvie had both known their marriage was no longer working. And yet when Sylvie is involved in a fatal car accident, her husband is stunned to discover that she had a lover who died alongside her. With thoughts of revenge on his mind, Fabien decides to find out about the lover’s widow, Martine, first by stalking her, then by breaking into her home. He really needs to get Martine on her own. But she never goes anywhere without her formidable best friend, Madeleine…
I think that it is probably a given that I am an ardent admirer of the work of the late, lamented Pascal Garnier, with his small, yet perfectly formed, dark slices of fiction that always put the less savoury aspects of the human psyche so succinctly under the microscope. Drawing comparisons to Georges Simenon and Patricia Highsmith, Garnier was a prolific author of more that sixty works, and a true master of the surreal noir thriller. Having previously reviewed The A26, and having also read The Panda Theory, How’s The Pain? and Moon In A Dead Eye, one of my favourite imprints, Gallic Books, have now released The Front Seat Passenger.
As you can see from the synopsis, the premise is simple enough, with a man discovering the infidelity of his wife, and her death occuring in the company of her lover. However, in the spirit of Garnier’s twisted and grimly humorous style, does Fabien merely retreat into a wave of self-pity and grief from the discovery of this affair? No- he seeks retribution by pursuing Martine, the widow of his wife’s lover, and what we bear witness to is a man that is entirely disengaged with the emotions of grief, and hellbent on his own twisted motives for revenge. With his Machiavellian plotting to woo Martine, and extricate her from the overbearing influence of her best friend Madeleine, Garnier produces some singularly absurd moments, that have you laughing and cringing in equal measure. However, this being a trademark example of the grim and disconcerting narratives that Garnier produces, the tables are swiftly turned on the scheming Fabien in a truly surprising fashion.
It is this ability of Garnier to insert the ridiculous and the horrific in fairly normal aspects of life and turns of events that set him so far apart from his contemporaries. His books are slim, but contain an expansive scope of the deepest and most dislikeable characteristics of his protagonists, but not so far removed that they do not strike some sort of chord or recognition from his readers. By focusing on the essential and most destructive aspects of human emotions and employing his style of writing, the familiar is made familiar, where we can recognise our own emotions, but also unfamilliar in the way that his protagonists deal with, and react to, these emotions. Thus, the absurd situations that arise are merely an extension of how some people would react in situations like these, but taken to a whole new existential level, in an effort to resonate with the natural wit and intelligence of his readers. The ordinary is made extraordinary, and our reading pleasure is amplified because of this, punctuated as it is by moments of dark humour, and moral revulsion.
Alluding to the writing style of Garnier himself, these are slim works of genius and little more needs to be said. Fin.
Read another review of The Front Seat Passenger- Crimepieces
My review – Pascal Garnier-The A26
(With thanks to Gallic Books for the ARC)