Divided along so many social fault lines, a city in the west of France is a tinderbox of anger and passion. As the tension grows, things go badly wrong as a cop is killed and a terror cell is scattered across the city. A school on the deprived side of the city is caught up in the turmoil as students, their teacher and a visiting children’s author are locked down…
Looking back at my blog, Little Rebel has to be the shortest book I have ever reviewed, at an incredibly slim page count of 76 pages, but boy, does Leroy ensure that every one of those 76 pagers pack a punch. Focused on a potential terrorist threat in an unnamed French city, with a cell of dangerous characters on the loose, this book combines an echo of the writing of Pascal Garnier and what, for me, seemed to be an even darker adult rendition of Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies as people are violently dispatched left, right and centre. You’re intrigued now aren’t you?
I absolutely loved the spare, punchy and blackly humorous prose, employing both foreshadowing, and a barbed omniscient narrator with an excellent translation from Graham Roberts. Leroy has such a precise way of capturing the whole essence of a character in one precise observation, be it a character’s physical presence, the dark and guilty secrets at the core of their being or inappropriate sexual thoughts. There is a wonderful ruthlessness to the characterisation that brings the reader up with a jolt, as Leroy also seems to get a singular pleasure out of exposing his characters’ best and worst thoughts about each other, and how this influences their actions.
I am keeping this deliberately vague, as having never read a book with a quite so wholly unsentimental depictions of people at their very worst, Leroy’s acidic observations paired with the very funny and disturbing black humour makes quite the impression, causing the reader to sometimes lose sight of the dangerous forces at play here, that then come crashing back in to the story with even more power and impact. His characters are eminently dislikeable and guided by the basest of instincts be they mental, physical or ideological, but like a terrible horror movie, you find yourself completely drawn to them, no matter how distasteful you find them, and with a heightened sense of the role karma, good or bad, will play in their fates, as slowly revealed by our omniscient narrator.
Obviously, there is an intensely more serious thread to the book, allowing Leroy to explore the political, social and ideological elements of French society with the murder of a conscientious cop who is both Arab and Muslim, and a potential terrorist attack on the horizon, Against a backdrop of social deprivation and political division which Leroy cleverly constructs as a microcosm of French society as a whole, we follow the disrupted terrorist cell and the tracking of its members by a fumbling and disorganised security service. The feeling of tension heightens exponentially, and just who exactly is the eponymous Little Rebel, and what is their part in the whole conspiracy? You know what to do to find out, and I would recommend that you do. Cleverly constructed, extremely earthy, and truly reflective of the political and ideological concerns not only of France, but also across Europe, Little Rebel is the real deal, perfectly packed into a punchy bijou parcel. Highly recommended.
(With thanks to Corylus Books for the ARC)
Missed a post? Catch up at these excellent sites: