2 June 2014

Tonino Benacquista: Quelqu'un d'autre | Someone Else (2002)

Tonino Benacquista's Quelqu'un d'autre (translated straightforwardly as Someone Else) is the writer's second novel after his series of four romans noirs. While there may be a light sprinkling of Modiano here, I was impressed by several of the common themes in Amélie Nothomb's work: identity, intoxication, obsession and love set in a Parisian context.

Two forty-year-old strangers  play a game of tennis and then get drunk in a bar. They speak of becoming someone else, of having a completely different life, and agree to meet up in the same bar at the same time exactly three years in the future. Virtually everyone would of course wake up the following morning and forget about such a drink-fuelled conversation, but it is exactly this conversation which sets the events of the novel in motion, the dialogue alternating throughout between the two protagonists.

Thierry Blin is a picture framer who would have preferred to have been a private detective, so he sets about doing just that. He finds an experienced detective ready for retirement who is quite amenable to having Blin with him, learning the ropes unpaid. Blin is an eager student and learns the profession thoroughly, and by the time he's ready to start out in business he's already set everything up: he not only changes profession, but changes his name (to Paul Vermeiren), his face, in fact his entire identity. He simply does a disappearing act (still based within Paris) and tells no one of it, leaving behind not only his previous job but also his girlfriend. He even escapes from his love-smitten, fantasist accountant who tries to trace him.

Nicholas Gredzinski, on the other hand, keeps his managerial position almost up to the end, although for the three years he splits himself in two, to such an extent that his final part is written by 'L'Autre' ('The Other'). The anxiety-ridden Gredzinski discovers his other self in the bar at the beginning, when this previously virtually teetotal man learns about the socially anesthetising effects of alcohol. He becomes addicted, and it's through lamely trying to hide his drinking at work that he comes to invent a simple contraption that will make him rich, meaning he doesn't care if he loses his job. He meets the love of his life – the oenophile Loraine – in a bar, and his alcoholism even saves his life towards the end.

This novel is proof that Tonino Benacquista can write a powerful, gripping, and very funny novel. It's just a pity that everything dribbles out in the Épilogue.

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