11 September 2016

Christian Oster: Rouler (2011)

Although published nearly ten years after the last book of his I read (Dans le train (2002)) many of the hallmarks of the previous book(s) of Christian Oster are here: the obsessing about minute detail, the unexpected, the strange, the old school friend, the agonising over buying minor items, the edgy atmosphere, the twists in the narrative, etc.

Jean (whose name we don't discover until much later in the story) just takes off on a road trip towards the south of France, although he has no specific place or plans in view, and we don't know why he's doing it. It wouldn't exactly be true to say that actions speak louder than words in the Oster world, as often very little is said, although the first person narrator is well aware of the ambiguities and the misinterpretations of speech, that talk often only serves as furnishing, filling in the spaces, and so on.

Jean vaguely has Marseille in mind, although he only finishes there by accident, and by avoiding Lyon and taking the wrong roads he accidentally finds his way to the Ardèche. The plot meanders like his car, and almost half of the book is over before he finds the relative stability of his school acquaintance Fred Malebranche's 'castle' near Arles, which isn't a castle at all but a rather odd hotel with rather odd guests.

Before that, though, Jean is delayed by two hitch-hikers who make him wait while they have a naked swim; gets involved with a couple in a hotel, the husband of which appears to be having serious breathing problems; and is helped by Paul and Claire when he gets lost, although when Claire drives him to his car he finds that she's running away from Paul, and she takes some time to shrug off.

And so back to Fred Malebranche and his (strange, of course) wife Hélène: Fred, although he hardly knows Jean, nevertheless treats Jean as a guest and almost as a long-lost friend. But Jean gets on far more with the older 'castle' regular Ségustat, whom he tells he's just wandering around the country because he's recovering from his girlfriend leaving him, and her recent death. This is while they're drinking coffee and then having a meal in nearby Mouriès. Jean begins teaching Ségustat to swim, even buys him a pair of goggles, but he will never use them.

It's only after Jean follows the ambulance carrying the very sick Ségustat to hospital and a phone call informs him that someone's in his property in Paris that the full meaning of the title 'Rouler' becomes evident: 'driving' is one obvious translation, but it also means 'con' or 'nick', and Claire has stolen his credit card and apartment keys.

My other posts on Christian Oster:

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Christian Oster: Dans le train
Christian Oster: Une femme de Ménage | Cleaning Woman

Christian Oster: Le Cœur du problème

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