22 March 2017

Émile Gaboriau: L'Affaire Lerouge (1866)

When I visited Saujon in Charente-Maritime (17) seven years ago and saw this street named after its famous son Émile Gaboriau (1835–73). I thought it sounded a little snobbish to describe Gaboriau as a 'popular novelist', although at the time I hadn't read any of his detective stories.

L'Affaire Lerouge, then, is my first Gaboriau, and is available online free of charge at a few sites. And I can now understand the 'popular' tag: although this is nearly 600 pages, it zips along at a fair pace, the subject matter – including pre- and extra-marital relationships, an 'illegitimate' birth and a 'kept' woman – clearly aimed at an adult readership while at the same time keeping the language simple throughout, paragraphs short and a great deal of easy-on-the-brain dialogue. Evidently, the reader is not expected to be a demanding one.

Not that I'm suggesting Gaboriau is 'writing down': he was influenced mainly by Poe, in turn initially influenced Conan Doyle, and there are a great of twists in the plot. Detective (or mystery murder) story is certainly is, although it's also a novel about a femme fatale. The main theme is the lust for money, and of course everything ties up neatly in the end, and the murderer dies in a dramatic finale.

L'Affaire Lerouge was first published in serial form in Le Pays in 1863, and this is perhaps easy to detect: there are twenty chapters of roughly equal length, and there's strong evidence of things being spun out to fit the format. And although I probably wouldn't go out of my way to seek out another Gaboriau novel, if I had a few hours to wait in an ambiance unsuited to more serious reading, I might well give another of his works a view.

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