28 October 2016

Christophe Carlier: L'Assassin à la pomme verte (2012)

L'Assassin à la pomme verte refers (obliquely) to René Magritte's painting of the anonymous man whose face is unseen because of the apple in front of him. Christophe Carlier had previously published Lettres à l'Académie française (2010) and various other works of non-fiction (including one on Marquerite Duras), but this is his first novel. And very good it is too.

Mystery? Murder story? Well, yes and no. This is a novel told in several different voices, and could very easily be turned into a play, virtually all the action taking place at the Paradise hotel in Paris. The main player is Craig, who's English, teaches French Literature at an American university, has been invited to Paris and is in the throes of divorce; in the same hotel is also Elena, who is a married Italian woman in Paris on fashion business; the third principal narrator is Sébastien, the all-seeing receptionist.

Hotel bars, of course, are often peopled by idiots, such as the Italian Arturo Apanazzi, who is only too keen after a skinful to talk about his three women, his wife and two mistresses with whom he apparently separately shares his life and separate children. Elena clearly doesn't like him, which Craig (a virtual stranger to her) notes and resolves to do something about. Murder is on his mind, although he doesn't really seem to have motive enough.

But then he murders the Italian loudmouth: pushes him violently to his hotel room floor, slits his throat, and then, er, strangles him with the tie he's wearing. The police swarm the hotel, Craig clearly has no motive for murder so is surely beyond suspicion, so maybe it's one of the Italian's lovers: the existence of the postcard saying 'Ti amo', which is present at the murder scene and which the Italian brandished in the bar must surely have a meaning, no?

Well, maybe the significance will come later. Meanwhile there's the, er, murder weapon, which Craig leaves casually on the ground during a walk, and which Sébastien will pick up on his way home and leave in his pocket to open hotel letters. Uh? Well, he also suspects Craig, who after the murder came down the stairs and went for his walk. Is that strange? Well, yes, as it's normal to walk from the second floor (where Arturo was staying) to the ground, but not to walk from the fourth floor (where Craig was staying) to the ground floor. Suspicious, that, although Sébastien doesn't want to say anything to the police: the reader would have thought that he was Craig's nemesis, but he seems intellectually way beyond that. And as for the knife, better for things to take whatever course they might, and Sébastien just puts it in someone's luggage, which quite by chance happens to belong to Craig, although it doesn't matter anyway.

Everything has been leading up to Elena (LNA) having sex with making love to Craig, which eventually happens, and affects them both. But Elena returns to her husband in Italy and Craig to his wife (yes, he still has one: he married a student, and he wasn't divorcing at all) in New England (state unspecified). And he didn't murder the Italian, who died naturally of a heart attack just before being, er, attacked. But in any case Craig has Alzheimer's and dies shortly after his return. A few months after his death Elena writes to him, can't get him out of her mind, and Craig's wife Vicky pretends to be him, writes back as her using the unfortuante words 'Ti amo', can't understand how her husband came back from AD so suddenly, and eagerly awaits for Elena's reply.

I'm not too sure when the story is supposed to be set, but cell phones are in use, so why not emails? In an internet age people use snail mail here. Great story, but the technology seems screwed.

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