6 January 2021

Alain Jessua: Crèvecœur (1999)

Many French film directors are also writers, but Alain Jessua (1932-2017) made films until 1997 (one intial short and nine features), and then turned novelist, with eight to his credit. Le Crèvecœur ('Crève-cœur' meaning 'heartbreak') is a fictional village here, and in this first novel are many of the features in his films: desperation, artificiality, sex, the future, technology, surveillance, a general sense of anarchy, etc.

France is now essentially an urban country, with people being encouraged (almost forced) to move out of the country, which is a lawless zone where savage human 'rats' terrorise the remaining people. Paris is now a spotless city with polished pavements and businesses run by the state: the penalty for dropping litter is a three-month prison sentence, although it's all right for people to have sex (discreetly?) in churches, as long as condoms are not discarded as litter. Churches are for anyone to enjoy, especially the mainly elderly prayers, and there are images of Muhammad along with other religious icons.

There are essentially two interlinked stories here, with the young Isabelle being rescued from being raped by two 'rats' in a savage area by two cops, and the commissaire Chêne taking her under his control. He's given two weeks to solve the mystery of this girl, whom he 'adopts' into his childless family and who slowly comes to appreciate him not as a potential (and illegal) lover but as someone who genuinely wants to help her – a rare thing in the world that France has now become.

And France is now a police state, where everyone dutifully watches everyone else, including the 'rats', some of whom work for the cops: it's impossible to know what information is being gathered on you. Here cameras don't seem too widely available, but they are left in homes as bugging devices.

There are 'visiophones' and it's by a 'disquette' that Chêne learns of the history of Isabelle's step-father Louis Moulin and his grandfather, the information on it slowly unravelling as this fascinating novel progresses.

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