Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Irène by Pierre Lemaitre

(T. Frank Wynne)
MacLehose Press; UK airports ed edition (March 6, 2014)

Shortlisted fort the CWA Daggers International 2014

Thanks to Marina Sofia, on Twitter, I've read Alex by Pierre Lemaître. What a discovery! A true literary shock for the quality of the writing and the story! I looove twists you don't expect, being led around by the nose with a story that come to a bluffing conclusion and  Pierre Lemaitre gives me all that. I would even say that he gave me faith in the French writing thrillers. Yes, it's a strong statement but true nonetheless. And how that and why? you might say. After reading many, many English writers, I'm used to reading novels which writing matches a thriller - in my opinion (for the best writers at least...) A nervous writing with a bit of dark humor, cynical, ironic, whatever as long as it's there (the humor) as well as to lighten the story as to give it more depth. I like writing that allows me to get into the story, to feel nervousness, anxiety, stress, that takes me on the edge of my seat turning the pages faster than my eyes allow it because I want to know WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN? But, too often, French authors writing seems too academic, too "I-put-all-the-strings-of-a-good-thriller" very appropriate for a literary novel, but less so for a thriller. Lemaitre, for once, is very aptly name: he mastered the genre. In short, you'll understand that this is again a favourite of mine!

The blurb

In this first book of Lemaître’s ‘Verhoeven’ trilogy, the weight of horror-filled noir from both the US and Europe motivates a serial killer whose murders seem to enact violence taken from both obscure writers, to such notables as Ellroy, Ellis, and the Swedish duo Sjöwall and Wahlöö. Lemaître’s own characteristic horrors ask us to reflect on the influence of crime writing, in a clever, complex, meta-fiction about books and butchers.

Why you should read it?

In case my praise was not enough, dear reader, this book is a gem. I won't talk much more on the quality of Pierre Lemaitre writing, except to say that his short chapters are addictive, that you'll have trouble closing the book after reading a chapter (they're short, why not read a small final chapter before sleep? and bam, it's 3 am!) I like the mix between very good and french slang, it creates a contrast that makes realistic dialogues, it keeps us on our toes. I just hope the traduction is as good as Lemaitre's writing for you folk! (I've read it in French)

Ideally, you should read this book first, since it explains a lot of Camille's character in view of what he experiences in Irène. In absolute terms, if like me you read Alex before, it's not more serious than that, it even makes Camille more human, backwards. Camille is an atypical Commissioner as it's always good to have an atypical cop in a thriller but this time it's not his love of booze, gambling and women that makes him human, but his size. He's very small and has an aura inversely proportional to his size. His colleagues all have a trait that differentiates and humanizes them and the way Lemaitre presents them is excellent. All in finesse, humor, mockery, I love when an author portraits his characters in another way, not just physically

As for the story, at first you thing that this is a good story, nervous, fast-paced and then, bam!, a twist you won't see coming! For that alone, this book should be read. I really enjoyed being had that way. The surprise is really good. Lovers of Victorian novels and psychological thrillers may pass their way... Irène is sometimes gruesome. 

In a nutshell 

What do you mean you did not already read it or went out to buy it? It's a 5/5 for me.


  1. I love your enthusiasm, Vanessa - and thanks for the mention. You make a very interesting point that some French thrillers are too 'academic', too literary, and yet there is a trend now to move away from that and almost too fully embrace the American model (Jean-Christophe Grangé or David Khara). What I like about Lemaitre is that he manages to incorporate the exciting thriller elements of Anglo-Saxon crime literature, and yet still make it his own, and perhaps uniquely French.

  2. Indeed Marina Sofia, I do love the way he writes, it's very French yet so well adapted to crime fiction (nervous, dark at times, funny and never annoying)!