Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Syndrome E

by Franck Thilliez (Marc Polizzotti, translator)
Viking Adult 2012
384 pages - 28.50 $

Why this book

A friend of mine gave me La chambre des morts by Thilliez last year and I really liked it. When I went to Quebec Book Fair last April and came by the Pocket stand, I heard my name "buy us !" the books were begging me. So, you know, I've bought 3 of them (yeah, each passionate reader has already heard the call of the book, right?)


Already a runaway bestseller in France, Syndrome E tells the story of beleaguered detective Lucie Hennebelle, whose old friend has developed a case of spontaneous blindness after watching an extremely rare - and violent - film from the 1950s. Embedded in the film are subliminal images so unspeakably heinous that Lucie realizes she must get to the bottom of it - especially when nearly everyone who comes into contact with the film starts turning up dead.

Enlisting the help of Inspector Franck Sharko - a brooding, broken analyst for the Paris police who is exploring the film’s connection to five murdered men left in the woods, Lucie begins to strip away the layers of what is perhaps the most disturbing and powerful film ever made. Soon Sharko and Lucie find themselves mired in a darkness that spreads across politics, religion, science, and art while stretching from France to Canada, Egypt to Rwanda, and beyond. And just who is responsible for this darkness will blow readers minds, as Syndrome E forces them to consider: what if the earliest and most brilliant advances and discoveries of neuroscience were not used for good - but for evil.

With this taut U.S. debut, Thilliez explores the origins of violence through cutting-edge and popular science in a breakneck thriller rich with shocking plot twists and profound questions about the nature of humanity.

What I think of it

That's a book you'll read real quickly (less than a week for me). I was taken by its fast-paced rythm, in part due - in my opinion - to the alternating chapters, each one telling the story through one of the two protagonists (Lucie and Franck). I appreciate that form of story which makes a dynamic book. It's like watching a movie, some people like to see the story through the same character and others - like me - like to know more characters. 

The story in itself was not surprising but I enjoy the technical details - yes, for once I enjoyed them - about film and the history of Quebec. Franck did a really good research which makes the story more effective. I did not feel overwhelmed by the amount of information which is good because when I read a thriller, its the story and the interaction I prefer. One must admit Thilliez's talent to popularise. He can introduce complex notions while making them easy to understand. It gives a good basis for reflexion or, at leat, it gives us the feeling of being included in the investigation. 

I picked up a repetition of the same sentence which I've found pleasant and maybe done on purpose. In the French book, page 62, the anthropologist ask Sharko how he should explain the case. The sentence is "on se la fait comment. Simple ou compliquée ?" - which gives in English : how are we doing this? Simple or complicated?" And page 76, the restorer of film asks the same question, using the same sentence, to Lucie. Was it a disguised way of letting us know that this two detectives will share something?

Lovers of conspiracy will love that book. For my part, I was a bit disappointed by the demeanour of the story. I though "rooo... too easy, it could have been better, it's deja-vu" and it's a pity because the story could have been exceptional. Aside from that I grew fond of Lucie and Franck, two tormented souls including a schizophrenic one - which is not common.

I've appreciated Franck's dark side and Lucie's struggle between her daughters and her job. The struggle is already lost by her daughters as we feel her visceral need to hunt the beast - or the killer in that case. I was watching The Killing and Lucie resembles the cop, Sarah Linden, who is so obsessed by her job that she neglects her son and her own life. As for Franck, his Nutty side is new in my case, more accustomed to flawless cops - save for alcohol, women and games of course! So I particularly appreciated his character. 

The epilogue is predictable, you know something is about to happen. My mother's heart shared the same fear than Lucie. And the inevitable happened, it was certain. And yet I shouted "NO, HE CAN'T END HIS BOOK LIKE THAT!" 

Yes he can and he did it. Fortunately, I had bough the sequel (Gattaca) simultaneously. Beware of the cliffhanger!

Let's be brief

A fast-paced book you'll devour. An easy reading thanks to the fluidity of the text. 

Good to know

Franck Thilliez  is the author of several bestselling novels in his native France. This is his first novel to be translated into English in the United States.

Mark Polizzotti is the translator of more than thirty books from the French. His articles and reviews have appeared in The Wall Street Journal  and The Nation

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