24 March 2018

Brigitte Varel: Un village pourtant si tranquille (1996)

It wasn't just the title, suggesting a (nevertheless) quiet village, but the suggestion that this novel, set in the Dauphiné in the Trièves area of Isère, is a very much a regional novel. Which it is in a way, although it's far more of a novel of suspense, with a number of murders, with much bloodshed and violence.

It begins quietly enough with Nicolas returning to an unidentified village – but one based on where Brigitte Varel grew up – and swiftly jumps back ten years to when Nicolas was twelve. He was an orphan brought up by the Mathieu family. As it says on the back cover, things start to turn odd when the head teacher of the local school (Roger Raine) takes a fall and there's a suggestion that he may have been pushed in an attempt to kill him.

But there is much more to come. His foster father is a violent alcoholic; his foster mother is having an affair with the postman; one of the main villains of the piece is a psychopath; another is a rapist. A third is a (bad) alternative version of Nicolas: Benoît, an orphan brought up (quite terrifyingly) some time before Nicolas, in a neighbouring farm run by the violent thief Gérard Louis, whom he is intent on killing.

Unsurprisingly, the hitherto quiet village becomes briefly overturned in the mayhem. Apparently Varel specialises in suspense novels set in Trièves. Surely they can't all be as breathlessly action-packed as this, can they?

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