24 April 2015

Laurent Mauvignier: Dans la foule | In the Crowd (2006)

I view Laurent Mauvignier as one of the best living French writers of fiction, although I'm a little uncertain that a tremendous number of other readers think the same. Which would be unfortunate, as they'd be missing out on a major talent. Mauvignier specialises in monologue as opposed to dialogue, and Dans la foule (translated as In the Crowd) consists of four voices leading up to, during, or after the disaster in Heysel stadium, Brussels on 29 May 1985, in which thirty-nine people died.

Geoff is the rather sensitive and cultured youngest brother – from a working-class, football-obsessed family from Liverpool – who tells his story of (a little reluctantly) going to the match with his yob brother Doug and his devoted younger brother Hughie. I could easily believe the existence of Geoff and his brothers, although I really couldn't believe in Geoff's girlfriend Elsie: a Liverpudlian nurse who reads Rimbaud in the original French and bakes stilton and fig scones? No, Mauvignier doesn't do English culture entirely convincingly. But this is a minor detail.

There's also the voice of the French Jeff, who goes to Brussels with his Italian-born friend Tonino, and they're slumming it, don't even have tickets, until they meet up with the Belgian couple Gabriel and Virginie. There's a lot of drinking in this novel and Virginie can have a loud mouth and really shouldn't have brandished their precious match tickets, giving Jeff a perfect opportunity to create diversions and so allow Tonino to steal the tickets.

A third voice is that of Gabriel, who's understandably angry that the tickets have been stolen so eagerly waits outside the stadium – later joined by his two friends who were with him at the time of the theft – in the hope of apprehending Jeff and Tonino and confronting them with their outrageous abuse of his and his partner's hospitality. Although jealousy creeps in here too, and there seems to have been a kind of understanding between Tonino and Virginie which clouds things, but anyway the deaths in the stadium are a far bigger cloud on the whole issue.

Mauvignier's writing is firmly planted in the world of the non-spoken, and even though Gabriel and Virginie meet Jeff and Tonino again and even invite them to their place where Tonino is given a change of shirt by Gabriel, we don't get to hear of any confrontation. More important is the state of mental and physical health of the Italian Tana who is also with them, and whom Jeff and Tonino met before the match with her husband Francesco, who was killed in the stadium at the beginning of their honeymoon.

Tana's voice is the fourth one, and in the final section of this 427-page book – the longest Mauvignier novel to date – she dominates it and pitches the reader further into the realm of the non-spoken as her internal monologue strives to cope with her grief and the aftermath as a 23-year-old that her mother seems to want – like her – to remain a weeping widow for the rest of her life. Three and a half years later Tana doesn't attend the trial in Brussels, although a short time after this she welcomes (the now-married father) Jeff and Tonino, and they all – along with her younger sister Grazia – escape from her mother for three weeks with a friendly uncle in Sardinia, where they drink, swim and sunbathe, and where nothing is said of the past.

I think Laurent Mauvignier is incapable of writing a mediocre novel.

My other Mauvignier posts:

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Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux
Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté
Laurent Mauvignier: Tout mon amour
Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Autour du monde

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