17 January 2015

Daniel Pennac: La Fée carabine | The Fairy Gunmother (1987)

La Fée carabine is the second part of Daniel Pennac's 'La Saga Malaussène', and like the first novel is also translated by Ian Monk, this time with the amusing title The Fairy Gunmother. Some sources also refer to this as a crime novel, and that tag would certainly have more credence over Au Bonheur des ogres as a crime novel, although again this novel is also a kind of comedy, if a little darker.

In the previous post I mentioned Pennac's use of slang, which evidently exists not simply to give the book a crime genre atmosphere, but because Pennac is obviously preoccupied by the use of language, as might be expected of an author whom an Oulipian has chosen to translate. At one point in the book Bernard Malaussène's mother mentions Verdun, who has been staying at their house, and Bernard's thought patterns are displayed: 'Je pense d'abord à la bataille. [...] Je pense "Verdun", "Verdun d'un", "Vert daim", et ce putain de mot ne veut pas me donner son sens. "Ça doit être un sacré problem pour les étrangers"'. In other words Bernard tells the reader that he thinks of the battle of Verdun, then of possible groups of words that the two syllables can signify, but it won't immediately yield up its meaning, and Bernard thinks this kind of thing must be a real problem for foreign speakers.

Power relationships are of central interest in Pennac's books too, individuals wielding power over others mainly in a working environment but also outside it. But whereas Au bonheur des ogres concentrates on the pecking order within a department store, in La Fée carabine the emphasis is on cops and villains, both against each other and amongst themselves. Interestingly, Bernard seems to more or less have the upper hand in his work situation with his new boss Queen Zebo, who significantly is only heard over the phone as Bernard is hardly ever 'on the job', either as an official scapegoat or incidentally with his girlfriend Julia, but that's another story, and this book – as the reader might expect after the first volume – is full of stories.

The novel is best summed up by Chief Inspector Coudrier, who, unable to understand what he calls 'fin-de-siècle paradoxes', thinks the time for his retirement has come:

'... a world where Serbo-Croatian Latinists create female killers in catacombs [at Montrouge rather than Denfert-Rochereau], where old ladies kill cops who are charged to look after them, where retired booksellers slit throats at the drop of a hat in the name of Literature, where a bad girl throws herself out of a window because her father is worse than her...' (My translation.)

This is the world of Daniel Pennac, and although there's not too much about the Malaussène family itself this time, both cops and family are joined in two ways at the end: retired cop Van Thien – who's been doing volunteer police work posing as an 'innocuous' Vietnamese woman – is finally forced to take a job telling stories to the family's kids in his Jean Gabin voice; and – it had to happen to some guy – Pasteur runs off with Bernard's mother.

Bordel de merde!

My other posts on Daniel Pennac:

Daniel Pennac: La Petite marchande de prose | Write to Kill
Daniel Pennac: Au bonheur des ogres | The Scapegoat
Daniel Pennac: Journal d'un corps
Daniel Pennac: Daniel Pennac: Chagrin d'école

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