Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre and Frank Wynne (translator)

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Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre and Frank Wynne (translator)

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A compelling thriller, which overrides minor flaws to be really an intriguing piece.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: July 2017
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 9780857056627

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Christmas week, 1999, and Antoine hasn't got the best of situations. Some of his friends have parted company with him because of the new-fangled Playstation, which his mother refuses to let him waste his time on. He's built a treehouse all by himself, and decided it was solely to woo the girl next door that he loves, but she's rejected it. And his best company, the dog from the other house next door, was injured in a hit and run, and shot to be put out of its misery. In the process of angrily demolishing the treehouse, he's visited by his very friendly and adorable neighbour, the dog's six-year-old owner, and Antoine's swung some of the wood at him – and killed him with one fell and very foul sweep. As the title suggests, there will be a very tense few days and nights while the guilt amasses with the lad – and/or a lifetime of living on a knife-edge, where any false move could lead to him being found out…

This is a really intriguing thriller, and a clever one, however you may raise an eyebrow at certain points. I do feel as if I have to plead your trust over this at times, for I had issues in the reading of this, but still found it really worth the effort come the end. The first half has a little bit of the longueur about it, and I did wonder if enough was happening. But the actual narrative, that had always been quite blatant in its use of dream or fantasy sequences, soon managed to play with us just as much as it was with Antoine, in making us question and doubt things. What is the true consequence of his childish suicide attempt? What life could he be in stall for with the guilt thrumming at his mind all the time? And what are we to make of the thing that's been blatantly mentioned then ignored (as there'll be marks deducted if it doesn't eventually become relevant)?

The second half features a jolting change, inasmuch as we leave the thriller element for a different strand to the story, which is really well evoked, and then we go into – well, that would be telling. Towards the end we find that Antoine has been allowed to grow into quite the misogynist – but he's still just about likeable enough for you to care about his situation. After all, this is a kid who doesn't seem to know the meaning of manslaughter (which I'll admit might not be a distinction allowed in France) and never strictly intended killing anyone. It's a very close look at his mindset – you'll notice instantly how the second chapter drops into present tense for added immediacy – but it's not a book that forgets about the consequence of the crime, as the grieving family comes across most vividly.

You could also say the whole milieu of the village is here – the crabby mayor, who's also the town's biggest employer but is most keen on wielding the P45 and sacking all his staff in quiet moments at the factory, and on down. There are phrases such as A rumor (sic) is a delicate sauce, either it takes or it doesn't – there is the feel of a real village community at play here, complete with housewives' sayings, even if a heck of a lot is played out in the mindset of Antoine. Further to that, there are at least half a dozen instances of the narrator mentioning something, and someone Antoine's conversing with responding to that, in a stylish stylistic quirk that economises as well as gives us further closeness to the character, as he seems to be thinking things but is really saying them out loud.

I might be defining that in a very poor way, and in some sense that's relevant to the whole book – I did, to repeat, find a niggle here and there that was a little elusive in pinning down. But dammit, by the end I've only spent four hours in the company of Antoine but I'm really invested in his lot, and the end – without giving anything away, trust me – was touch and go like so much that came before. I could raise an eyebrow at it, but at the same time, it's going to stick in my mind. Actually, I can feel the after-effects of this quick read lasting longer than many a comparable novel, so while it's not perfect it really has to be recommended.

Friends and Liars by Kaela Coble also has teenaged goings-on impacting on adult lives, and likewise is a book demanding to be read in one sitting. Frank Wynne also translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes.

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Buy Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre and Frank Wynne (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre and Frank Wynne (translator) at


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