28 May 2020

Abel Quentin: Sœur (2019)

Almost exactly two months ago I found an uncorrected proof copy of Abel Quentin's first novel Sœur, published by Les Éditions de l'Observatoire, in one of the two boîtes à lire in Le Jardin des Plantes in Caen. I knew nothing about Quentin and so kept an open mind. But he's a criminal lawyer and obviously his experiences have informed this book, as what we have is essentially a 'state of the nation' novel. At least, when it was written last year it was, but as two months now seem a very long time ago, last year's France – indeed last year's world – seem far removed from the present one.

Jenny Marchand is the fifteen-year-old daughter of middle-class parents – neither upper- nor lower- – and they're perfectly, er, normal, loving parents with 'normal' cultural interests within that class. Jenny's cultural interests are no doubt within that framework for her age: Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter, mainly. But she's an outsider at school: there's nothing for her to relate to, but more importantly others don't relate to her, and so many 'ados' like the animated gif of Clément rejecting her attempt to kiss him on Facebook, which affects her very strongly.

Quentin knows the power of the internet, how it can influence the vulnerable, and as Jenny puts out an impassioned suicidal howl a member of Islamic State reaches out to her, and she welcomes him. Jenny comes from a small village near Nevers, and much of the action of the book takes place there. Jenny meets Dounia, who becomes a kind of idol, and she changes her name to Chafia Al-Faransi, wearing the veil, hating her parents drinking alcohol, her father's Pirelli calendar, and refuses to see a shrink.

And so she disappears into a world of Islamic extremism, knows that she can pull out at the last moment and be safe back in the bosom of her parents, but then if you're in Paris with a semi-automatic and the president is within easy reach of you, how can you not pull the trigger?

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