|The Gravediggers' Bread by Frederic Dard and Melanie Florence (translator)|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A really good thriller, concerning a man without much luck in life or love, who falls into a job as assistant to an undertaker.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: June 2018|
|Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo|
Blaise is at a loose end, for having left Paris on a wild goose chase for a job, which was his friend's idea, he's stuck outside a call box waiting to report back before he gets the train. The woman in the post office using the payphone finally finishes her business, and leaves him with a strong impression – as well as a wallet dropped to the floor containing several days' good money, and, when he tracks her to the village funeral directors', signs of her infidelity. Lo and behold he is given a job as the woman's husband's assistant, although she also starts to employ him in sending messages to her amour, her childhood love before circumstances changed. Blaise is of course deeply in love with the woman by now, and hates the two obstacles preventing him from being with her. One is the lover, a brutish bloke with little prospects and a bad case of epilepsy. Surely he will not fall by the wayside, and surely the brick wall of fate keeping Blaise from his intended destiny will remain two men tall?
Of course it won't. We're once more in the hands of one of France's consummate thriller writers, here ploughing through things at a rate of knots and also giving us perfectly pithy descriptions. Blaise can't stand the provinces, and through his eyes we get comments like the undertakers' place having "wallpaper the colour of incurable diseases" – even the initial post office was one "that smelt of sadness". Such snappy verdicts, partly voiced by the narrator, partly from Blaise's point of view, really sum up the situation.
It has to be said, however, there is a side to Blaise that the modern reader may not be quite so keen on, and it again has to do with his attitudes. There's almost a mammalian mindset about him – denigrating the lass and her men, disparaging her clothing in his head, and quite lumpenly saying he will be the one to save her, because dammit he's in love and that's what you do and how you think when you're in love. It's not going to endear him to every reader.
What will do, though, is the bijou cast – this is not a book swamped with characters; the richness and cleverness of the situation everyone is in; and a pitch-black scene that will certainly stick in the mind. I often interrupted my reading by telling Blaise things – "but you still need your suitcase", "make sure you've got the right one", "make sure it's the right side of the train" – but the author was clearly way ahead of all that, answering me sometimes at the turn of a page. But I didn't pre-empt the ending, which once more is a fine genre conclusion from this master of the form. I think little here is a flaw, so with the caveat that you might not wish any well of Blaise, this is well worth the purchase.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
These publishers don't just take us to rural France – urban Japan can be had, too, with the likes of The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa and Simon Grove (translator).
You can read more book reviews or buy The Gravediggers' Bread by Frederic Dard and Melanie Florence (translator) at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Gravediggers' Bread by Frederic Dard and Melanie Florence (translator) at Amazon.com.
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