18 April 2014

Tatiana de Rosnay: Spirales (2004)

A short way into Tatiana de Rosnay's Spirales I began to think of Ian McEwan's Saturday: the smelly underclass meets the well-heeled middle class and then things rapidly spiral downhill for the main character. I was appreciating this more than any McEwan, although by the end I was thinking of Amélie Nothomb's Tuer le Père, which was the book that put me off reading any more of Nothomb's books as I felt – well – cheated, short-changed.

Hélène is a young-looking and rather naive fifty-year-old who has been married to Henri the well-respected publisher for many years and she's a good mother, good grandmother and even a good daughter-in-law in spite of somewhat trying circumstances. Although Henri has strayed sexually a few times it would be unthinkable for the saintly Hélène to do the same.

Until, that is, she strays, and with a big bang at that: yes, she falls into the arms of a younger down-at-heel Serb whose name she doesn't even know but who swiftly clues her in on her wild orgasmic potential. But they will only have one brief encounter as the man dies at her side of a heart attack. She flees and only discovers that she's left her handbag in the bedroom a few minutes before the commissaire de police phones to say he has that very bag.

So Hélène, Henri and Pablo (a Spanish author they are with that evening) go to the cop shop and Hélène explains that Zarko Petrovic (yes, he now has a name) must have stolen the bag out of her open car window, and of course she has nothing to do with the post-coital position in which he was found – no, she's never heard of him. Later she's informed that Zarko didn't die under suspicious circumstances, so she can stop worrying about DNA and such as she's off the hook.

But Hélène's worries are far from over because Zarko's twenty-year-old daughter and younger son are aware of the truth and appear at Hélène's house demanding money to keep them quiet. She must above all keep them away from Henri, so she pays them off, but of course you can never get rid of a blackmailer and Hélène's mind begins to spiral out of control as she continues to be asked for more money: the girl is pregnant, and this is a fact used to increase the stranglehold the young blackmailers have over her.

And then when Hélène visits the girl at her shabby flat she learns that Zarko wasn't her father at all, just a friend of his, like the boy who was merely a friend of hers, but it turns out that she was in the kitchen watching the two in action, and she demands 1500 euros on a monthly basis, and keeps adding extras for the baby as it grows. Unsurprisingly, Hélène refuses and in a struggle the girl falls and bangs her head on a table. She doesn't move and Hélène doesn't know if she's just unconscious or something more serious, but she swiftly leaves again anyway. After temporarily forgetting where she put the car and having a hot chocolate and a 'surreal' conversation with another woman in a café she goes through weeks of purgatory worrying about the girl and the unborn child, and a further worry is that any police can track the girl's phone history back to Hélène.

Eventually she learns that the girl has died: this means that there are now three deaths on her conscience, and she turns that fact over and over in her mind, unable to relax. And then, of course, the young guy comes knocking on the door.

But he's suddenly grown bigger and stronger and when will the nightmare end and how come she's now responsible for four deaths? Oh, it was all just a nightmare, was it? Tatiana de Rosnay's ending is far from original, and it amounts to no more than a very easy way to keep Hélène out of jail. I noticed that one person described the book as ending 'en eau de boudin', which is just another way of putting it.

No comments: