9 April 2014

Tanguy Viel: Paris-Brest (2009)

Louis is seventeen and lives in a tiny apartment in Brest downstairs from his grandmother, who lives in a huge apartment and has been left eighteen million euros after the death of Albert, whose companion she was for three years. The young man's parents are in 'exile' in Palavas-les-Flots in Languedoc-Roussillon: Louis's father was vice-chair of Brest football team until fourteen million euros were found to have 'disappeared', and his father is continually insulted in the town for being responsible. After his daily dinner with his grandmother at the Cercle Marin – where Louis hates the right-wing old sailors and where his grandmother met Albert – his friend le fils Kermeur comes up to his apartment to join him and they drink wine.

Several years later – after Louis's parents have quietly returned to Brittany but not Brest, and have the ageing grandmother living with them – Louis returns from Paris for a few days over Christmas, although he cuts the visit short.

From the beginning it's clear that Louis doesn't like his parents, and his mother comes across as insufferable: she has always hated le fils Kermeur as a bad influence on Louis, and when she was in Palavas-les-Flots she used to ring her son every evening to check that he wasn't up to mischief. But he was.

We learn more about le fils Kermeur, of how he recruited Louis as a child into the petty theft of chocolate bars from a supermarket, and later how he encouraged Louis to burgle his grandmother's apartment. Shortly after the theft Louis left for Paris, where he rented a place in Paris overlooking Luxembourg. There, he fulfilled his ambition to be a writer.

Louis's 'family novel' is completed but must never see the light of day until his grandmother's death. It contains a great deal of information about Louis's family, and although it's fictionalised (with names and some facts changed) it to a certain extent falls in the relatively recent sub-genre of 'autofiction'. But this is not the book we're reading – which begins with a brief history of Brest – as the 'family novel' begins with grandmother's death.

Other things are different. In Paris-Brest they escape from the burglary with impunity, although in Louis's family book his mother finds le fils Kermeur out and is responsible for his imprisonment. When he gets out he seeks revenge and the whole of Louis's book leads up to le fils Kermeur cornering his mother in order to kill her. Obviously the reader now expects that this last part of Louis's book will come true and le fils Kermeur will in fact kill her in Paris-Brest.

But this is not to be and there's just a little bonfire of Louis's book. It's futile though, as he's caressing a memory  stick in his pocket and will soon be back in Paris and out of his family's life for ever.

Interestingly, Tanguy Viel not only shares the same publisher as Laurent Mauvignier but is also a friend of his.

Links to my other Viel posts:

Tanguy Viel: Insoupçonnable
Tanguy Viel: L'Absolue perfection du crime

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