Too Close to the Edge by Pascal Garnier
Translated by Emily Boyce
The dark short novels of Pascal Garnier have been a revelation for me (find out more here) so, the moment I got my hands on the latest to be translated by French to English specialists Gallic books, I just had to read it. He is often described as Simenon’s heir, and Garnier’s stories share Simenon’s tales of desperate folk in the suburbs and provinces, but they are told with lashings of grim and dark humour, and are not detective-led. Like Simenon’s books, however, they are short and best read in one sitting.
Éliette has been a widow for a year now. They had been packing to make a permanent move from the Parisian suburbs to their rural retreat in the Ardèche when Charles died. They had been doing up the remote former silk farm for thirty years now, their retirement was meant to be one ‘never-ending holiday’. Éliette decides to go anyway, to the horror of her children:
‘It’s madness, Maman. What are you going to do with yourself, stuck down there in the back of beyond? It’s a nice place to go on holiday, but living there full-time is another story.’
‘But I won’t be on my own. The Jauberts are here!’
‘The Jauberts! I mean, they’re decent people and everything, but all they do is go on about tractors and frosts and their disappointing onion crop. And as far as neighbours go, that would be your lot. You haven’t even got a driving licence and the nearest village is eight kilometres away. How are you going to do your shopping? On a bike?
‘And what if you’re ill?’
‘I’ve got a telephone.’
‘It’s ridiculous, completely ridiculous!’
Éliette moves anyway, and soon decides to buy herself one of those little French mini cars that doesn’t need a driving licence. ‘The vehicle had changed her life.’ Meanwhile she starts preparing the house for the imminent visit of her children and grandchildren. Although she loves them, she also slightly dreads the imposition this weekend will cause, and looks forward to the week after they’ve gone. But time now to go shopping in her little car. This is when all her troubles start and the novel takes that swerve into darkness!
Stressed out by shopping, she manages to drive the car into the ditch and get a flat. It’s starting to rain too, when she sees a man coming towards her on foot:
A man, but not from round here. A man in a three-piece suit, jacket slung over his shoulder, briefcase in hand. A man who seemed to have come a long way judging by his heavy, steady gait and the hair slicked to his forehead. It was like a scene out of a Western: beneath a low sky, a stranger walks calmly towards his widescreen destiny. (p25)
He changes the wheel, telling her he’d broken down a few km down the road. As they’re both soaked she takes him home to dry off where he can ring for help. It is while they’re drinking tea, that Éliette gets a call from the Jauberts asking her to come over immediately as there’s been an accident…
Who is this man? Éliette is attracted to him, her good Samaritan, but underneath he could be an axe-murderer – or could he be the companion she longs for?
We all know that giving lifts to strangers and letting them into your home is likely to be a dangerous thing. Garnier doesn’t disappoint, and as the plot develops it gets darker and darker. As always with a Garnier novel, there is this streak of black humour, so as your jaw drops in horror, you’re often stifling an uneasy laugh. What I particularly liked about this story was that it was that the characters didn’t behave as you’d expect them to and the action often goes in a different direction. This one is a little gem of nasty and hilarious amorality. (10/10)
See also: Guy Savage’s review here.
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Source: Publisher – Thank you!
Pascal Garnier, Too Close to the Edge, trans Emily Boyce (Gallic Books, April 2016) Paperback original, 144 pages.