Recently I have been making a conscious effort to try and read more translated fiction. In many cases, this has gone extremely well, with My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies being one such example (review here). When I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader’s copy of Pierre Lemaitre’s latest book, Three Days and a Life, soon to be published in July, I was really eager to see what his work would be like.
Lemaitre is described on this books blurb as the ‘master of noir’, with a quote from Stephen King stating he is a ‘really excellent suspense novelist’. High praise indeed! The book itself follows twelve year old Antoine, living in a small, very familiar village. When events are set into motion in 1999, a six your old boy vanishes, leaving the entire town concerned and mystified. Yet for Antoine, ‘it all begins with the violent death of his neighbour’s dog’, an act in which his fate and the fate of his neighbour’s son are sealed together. In the following years, Antoine wrestles with his actions, but can he really outrun his past?
I really liked the premise of this novel. It promised suspense and thrills, leaving the reader wanting to know more. Whilst I sadly did not actually find the book that suspenseful, with the plot being quite simplistic, I did enjoy the ideas which it inspired. For example, I found it very interesting to consider the idea of a crime which has been committed, and the feeling which comes from such actions telling you that you cannot escape it. I think for anyone who has made a silly mistake, they can understand the guilt which plagues such things, so to consider how intense this would become the greater the crime committed was really interesting. It was probably the idea of such dread throughout the book which propelled my reading onwards, wanting to know if such feelings would become justified.
I felt quite distanced whilst reading this book, and I think a lot of this is to do with the characters, especially that of Antoine himself. I just did not seem to warm to them, and found it hard to ascribe any sort of emotions towards them, be that like or dislike. Many of the individuals from within the village seemed quite generic, as if each were filling a certain type of character cast, e.g the nosy neighbour, the ‘rich’ neighbour. Where this did differ was with the family of the young boy who goes missing. The Desmedt’s are going through a horrific ordeal, and it was in these moments where I felt the most heart and emotion from the book. It was the unanswered questions, the what if’s and maybes, which really touched me as a reader. In one scene, age progression technology is considered on a photo of the missing child. The idea that his parents might never know what their grown child would look like, that they can only image and speculate, really got the emotions started.
I had a lot of issues with the writing of this novel. Quite often, there were cases where both the grammar and the syntax appeared to be either incorrect or poor. Likewise, in many cases the speech was not often made clear and became quite stilted and confusing. I found this quite problematic, as not only did it disturb the reading experience, but it also lead to the questions of why this could be the case. Firstly, it might just be the authors style of writing, and something which I do not personally enjoy reading. Secondly, it could be the fact that this has been translated from the original French, and the act of translation has made the book feel quite clunky. Or, lastly, it could be the very fact that it is an early proof of the book. I have noticed mistakes in proof copies of books before, but not quite in the same way or tone as evident within this book.
The novel’s conclusion leaves things quite ambiguous. This might bother a lot of people, but I think it was probably the right decision here. It took a turn which was not necessarily a gigantic plot twist, but was also something I had not really been expecting, almost taking me by surprise for its subtleties. On the other hand, I did feel as if this book was constantly trying to build the suspense, making you alternate between the different ways it could end, whilst in reality it did not really bring any of these into question, which was frustrating.
I wasn’t really a fan of this book. I found the plot quite lack lustre, the characters basic and the writing in general quite poor. I am trying to take into account that this is translated fiction and my edition is an advanced readers copy, but even so I was not really drawn into the story.
Has anyone read any of his other works? Is it worth reading more?
Publisher: MacLehose Press
Disclaimer – I was kindly given this proof copy in exchange for a review. I will only ever post my own, honest opinions, and will NOT write a favourable review in return for a complimentary book.