In Serge Joncour's L'Écrivain national, the writer Serge has been invited by a bookstore in a small town in the Nièvre and Morvan area for a month making library visits and helping writing groups and suchlike. How can he resist, even if the mayor of the town condescendingly calls him 'L'Écrivain national', and his supposedly plush hotel doesn't quite live up to expectations?
A few other things don't quite live up to expectations, but then this is deepest rural France, and the locals, while not being stereotypical hicks, aren't exactly too well up on contemporary culture. Why should this concern the national writer anyway, when he is greeted at the train station (Serge Joncour loves France's train network) by the woman in the station bar who serves him a coffee and a slightly old edition of the local paper?
The national writer is so riveted by a news item in the paper that he doesn't touch his coffee. Or rather, the news item, which he tears from the paper, contains the transfixing photo of the néorurale Dora, partner of the néorural Aurélik, who has been retained in custody following the disappearance of the supposedly rich octogenarian Commodore. Dora has been cleared from any blame. The small town is buzzing with tales of the disappearance, and initially less than buzzing with the appearance of the national writer.
But the locals' interest in the national writer grows almost in proportion as the national writer's interest in his temporary post decreases. The locals, in fact, think he's spending far too much time where Dora is, even that he's sexually involved with her: which isn't true, well not until towards the end at least.
A love story removed from the norm this certainly is, but it's also one of cannabis harvests, an accidental death by one of the least suspected locals, and surely above all an unconventional detective story without a moral, or rather a novel about an amateur detective with highly questionable morals, whose morals are in his underpants? Fascinating stuff, though.
My other Serge Joncour post:
Serge Joncour: L'Idole