Bird in a Cage by Frederic Dard and David Bellos (translator)
|Bird in a Cage by Frederic Dard and David Bellos (translator)|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A snappy and inherently clever little thriller. Written in the early 1960s but in English only for 2016, the age of its qualities will never really matter.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 128||Date: June 2016|
|Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo|
A man returns to the flat he grew up in and where his mother died without his knowledge and finds it too desolate for the time of year it is – Christmas Eve. Bursting for more life, despite being a solitary character, he goes to a restaurant and finds a connection with a mother with her daughter. They dine, then go to the cinema, and sit together, and things happen from there – in a gentle, no-pressure, no-names-no-pack drill way. If this isn't a reasonable start to a novella, consider the tag it has as a noir classic. And consider the fact the strange woman is the spitting image of the man's dead wife…
So, to cover those concerns in turn. Is this a novella? Definitely so. It can be read in well under two hours. A lot of the pages are blank space, with very short bursts of dialogue. Yes, when it's not attributed as here you get hiccups, but you also get the snap these proceedings deserve. And the book, by being terse, has the crackle (and, if you must, pop) you also seek…
Is it a noir classic? Well, it seems there are three giants of French literature of this kind – Georges Simenon, an incredibly prolific Frederic Dard, and someone else since. And this is definitely noir. It's exceedingly clever – when surprising things happen they slap you in the face for being so obvious, so necessary and so vital yet so surprising at the same time, and you can only squirm more enjoyably into your seat as you read on.
And as for the women – the dead one, and her living replica – are we to cherchez la femme, as we're so often told? Well, the blurb suggests to us the cage concerned may be of the man's own making. I think, at the end of it all, that's completely open to interpretation. I felt sorry for our lead a lot. I also felt engaged with a complex little plot, and I felt fully at the command of a brilliant author. I've never dabbled with Pushkin Vertigo – their noir/thriller arm – before now. I'd never heard of the authors, the franchise (if you can call it that) didn't quite compel me, and the collect-them-all spine design felt like it was excluding me. But damn it, on this briefest of pieces of evidence I'm on board. I'm certainly going to look out for the other Dard books they have under their belt. This one alone, in its brevity, in the manner it's been translated which disguises its vintage just enough, and in its sheer ingeniousness, has sold me.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
That other author I mentioned above? He must stand as the further reading after Dard. He is Pascal Garnier – notably, his book featuring a man back home for Christmas is completely different. You might also enjoy You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames. David Bellos also translated Dear Reader by Paul Fournel.
Bird in a Cage by Frederic Dard and David Bellos (translator) is in the Top Ten Crime Novels 2016.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Bird in a Cage by Frederic Dard and David Bellos (translator) at Amazon.com.
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