Book Quote:

“Calm down. Just calm down. It will all be fixed tomorrow. Change the brake light and touch up the paint, it won’t take all day.”

Book Review:

Review by Roger Brunyate  AUG 31, 2011)

Very early in the morning of August 31 1997, Princess Diana was killed when her car crashed at high speed into a pillar in a road tunnel near the Pont de l’Alma in Paris. Evidence at the crash site suggested that the driver of the car might have lost control after side-swiping a slower-moving car, a white Fiat Uno, near the tunnel entrance. It was not until 2006 that the driver of this car was identified as a young man of Vietnamese origin, but at the time that Laurence Cossé published this novel in 2003, the Fiat still posed a mystery, leaving the author to imagine a story of her own. Clearly wanting to follow the astounding success of Cossé’s A Novel Bookstore, Europa Press has commissioned a translation of this earlier book, produced with Europa’s trademark elegance. But this is a less relaxed, more edgy book that will appeal to quite a different audience.

Conspiracy theories aside, the driver of the Fiat was clearly not directly to blame for the crash, so the big stumbling block is to find a convincing reason for his or her not going immediately to the police. The driver in the real situation might have had many reasons: momentary panic, fear of involvement, then fear of being blamed for not coming forward earlier; the details do not really matter so long as the driver is just a name in a newspaper. But once we get to know the driver as a real person, once we get into her heart and her head as the protagonist of a novel, the reasons had better be good ones. Cossé uses her feminine empathy (yes, Laurence is a female name in France) to imagine a young woman, Lou Origan, a 25-year-old cook at a Paris restaurant, returning home to the suburbs. Her initial reactions are entirely credible; the huge black Mercedes bearing down on her at more than double her speed, knocking into her not once but twice, then bursting into flames; no wonder she drives home in shock.

It is only when Lou wakes up and listens to the radio that Cossé really runs into problems. No doubt wanting to plunge into the story at breakneck speed, she has not had time to establish Lou as a fully-dimensioned character; her relationships with her live-in boyfriend Yvon (an aficionado of fast motorbikes and sleek sailboats) and her co-workers at the restaurant are sketched in only later. So all we have of Lou is her panic. Cossé’s empathy produces only the kind of girly helplessness that I thought had more or less vanished from serious fiction. Lou’s attempts to take control of the situation are generally negated by fecklessness in carrying them through. Before long, she feels herself hunted and in fear of her life, running around in circles despite her determination to make a clean break. But to a large extent, these problems are inherent in Cossé’s choice of subject. A Novel Bookstore contained elements of suspense and detection also, but it was held together by the author’s deep love of books and appreciation for the people who write, read, and sell them. This, by contrast, is a book about a woman falling apart.

The novel does pick up half-way through when another character enters the story, a man who knows Lou’s secret. Now Lou has another person to contend with, a situation which brings out reserves of courage, endurance, and (in the one climactic scene) inspiration that she had not the opportunity to show before. But despite this one addition to the cast, we are still basically trapped inside Lou’s mind, and the feeling of going around in circles continues. Unfortunately, too, the climax comes too early, so the last section of the novel just runs out of steam — though Cossé springs a nice ironic twist as a final flourish.

Readers who enjoy the woman-in-peril genre may find themselves biting a few nails in delicious anguish, and there is always the interest of the Di-and-Dodi crash (since Cossé stays very close to the facts). But these are unlikely to be the same readers who so enjoyed A Novel Bookstore.  (Translated by Alison Anderson.)

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 4 readers
PUBLISHER: Europa Editions (August 30, 2011)
REVIEWER: Roger Brunyate
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Laurence Cossé
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Partial Bibliography (translated books only):

August 31, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Mystery/Suspense, Translated

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