16 November 2017

Thomas B. Reverdy: Il était une ville (2015)

Couverture du roman Les évaporés
It obviously makes commercial sense to set a novel in an Anglophone country, as it's for one thing more likely to be translated into English. And it's better still if that country is the USA, as that's a far sexier place than England, for instance. In any case – as I learned when I was teaching in France – the French have long had a love affair with the USA: I seem to remember reading somewhere that even Jean-Paul Sartre loved American cartoons.

Thomas B. Reverdy's Il était une ville isn't about New York, or San Francisco or L.A., but Detroit, Michigan in 2008 during the sub-prime crisis. But even this, of course, is sexier than, say, Dagenham at any time.

This novel is fictional, although of course the background, the near-ghost town that was Detroit, with its lack of jobs, people abandoning worthless houses, the very few remaining retail outlets, the tense, violent atmosphere, the hell-hole that the town has become, are all there.

Il était une ville is in some ways a detective story, in others a post-apocalyptic, almost science fiction novel. Here, we have Eugène, the French guy parachuted down to boot up the car industry, which in the end he gives up on as a kind of joke, resigns and leaves the work to China, and hopes that the barmaid Candice will continue her relationship with him; there's twelve-year-old Charlie, brought up by his grandmother Georgia,* who goes missing to join the gang hanging out in the former school; and then there's Lieutenant Brown (nicknamed, er, Marlowe), the ageing cop who's trying his best under difficult circumstances to track down lost kids.

All this adds up to a highly readable novel about the collapse of a small part of civilisation which, the reader can't help thinking, might easily occur again, only on a much bigger scale.

*Georgia is incorrectly called 'Gloria' on the back cover: an editorial boob which has caught out many 'reviewers' of a book they obviously haven't read? Or is it a deliberate error, to weed out those who have just pretended to read it? We'll never know.

No comments: