8 February 2021

Rebecca Lighieri’s Les Garçons de l'été (2017)


The writer Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam writes her romans noirs, of which this is an example, under the pseudonym Rebecca Lighieri. Les Garçons de l'été is essentially about multiple trauma and revenge, and might initially seem overloaded at 440 pages. But it's not, and this is a very powerful and highly readable book told by several narrators.

Thadée and Zachée are brothers of almost the same age, 21 and 20 respectively, both are academically brilliant, and both are huge enthusiasts of surfing. Their girlfriends – Jasmine and Cindy – are devoted young women. The brothers' parents are the chemists Mylène and Jérôme (who is having an affair with Maud), and have a young daughter, Ysé.

It's Thadée who is the problem, although the readers don't know this when he is forced to return home from La Réunion, cutting his one year stay short: he's been chewed by a bulldog shark, and will have to have a leg amputated. Thadée believes that Jasmine will no longer be interested in him, changes personality, broods and spends a long time just staying in bed doing a different kind of surfing: the internet.

Mylène is obviously devastated, and all the more so when Zachée too becomes a victim of the surf. Or rather, he's a victim of the tremendous ego of Thadée, a person whose hatred and egocentricity knows no bounds: he is responsible for the death of his brother Zachée, and although several people suspect this there's not a shred of evidence to prove it, and certainly Mylène doesn't even suspect what a monster her son is.

The beautiful Anouk, though, the girlfriend of a friend of the brothers, is well aware of what kind of person Thadée is, and has always been: before Thadée's accident, she chose at a party one evening to take a piss in the woods, and unbeknown to her Thadée was lustfully watching: he tried to rape her, and at the same time almost strangled her. She said nothing, but the trauma remained.

Cindy is inconsolable when Zachée, the one love of her life, is dead, and she knows Thadée is guilty of his death. One day, she gets talking to Anouk and learns that she hates him too. Although Thadée has left home, Cindy gains access – via the pre-pubescent Ysé – to his computer, and works out where Thadée is. With Anouk, Cindy goes to Thadée's hideout and tatoos his face, irreparably disfiguring him.

And the final word is with the very intellectually advanced Ysé, whose only friend – her mother being traumatised by the death of Zachée and the disappearance of Thadée – is the slightly backward (in comparison to Ysé) Jordy. Troubled by a 'poltergeist' for some months, Ysé discovers that it's Thadée, and orders him to leave: the result of which is that Mylène becomes permanently psychiatrically disturbed, Maud moves in with Jérôme and Ysé becomes more attached to Jordy, acknowledging that he's making considerable progress.

Reading this back, the book sounds like a pile of bullshit, and yet it's not at all: Lighieri writes in an almost graphic language which is attuned to different varieties of French, notably verlan. A joy to read.

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