Friday, July 20, 2007

Fred Vargas

Up until very recently, I'd never read a single chapter by this double Dagger winner. Now, I have read a single chapter, the first of Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, the novel for which Vargas and translator Siân Reynolds recently received their second succesive Duncan Lawrie International Dagger. This attention-grabbing opening begins with Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg contemplating a broken central-heating system. He hopes to have it repaired, of course, but mostly he thinks about himself, the heater, and the place they share in the universe.

Adamsberg shivers with his second-in-command, Capitaine Danglard, a precise, knowledgeable officer, perhaps too precise and knowledgeable for the apparently intuitive Adamsberg. The two share personal secrets, and they have opposing approaches to an upcoming police seminar in Quebec. And that, for all practical purposes, is the chapter. There is barely a hint, if any at all, of the cases that will constitute the novel. The chapter reads more like the opening scene of a two-man show, all the emphasis on contrasts between the two characters. I have never read an opening chapter like this before in a crime novel.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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6 Comments:

Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

The extreme quirkiness of this novel is one of its charms.
Later on it contrasts the French and the Quebecois so be warned.

July 20, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the note, Uriah. I was obviously taken by that opening chapter, but also just a bit apprehensive about what it portends. I compared the chapter to the opening scene of a play, and I hope the novel doesn't turn out to be too theatrical, that the foreshadowing and its subsequent action do not turn out to be too schematic, and that the novel is more than just a set of quirky contrasts. Vargas has set the bar high, one might say.

I am eager to read about the contrasts between the French and the Quebecois. In a discussion of the novel some time ago, I read the statement that the Quebecois look up to the French but don't quite trust them. One element of official Quebecois conduct and lack of self-confidence has been a driven desire to be more pure French than the French, particularly in matter of vocabulary. I will likely comment on such matters in a future post.

July 20, 2007  
Anonymous LauraR said...

Hmmmm I have to say I did find this novel a little overly quirky. My favourite Fred Vargas book is "May god have mercy", which as far as I am aware is the first of the Adamsberg series. I found it original and absolutely mindblowing.

July 20, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

My reading may turn into an exercise in sifting the original from the quirky. I was undecided which to read first, Have Mercy On Us All, or this one. Two factors swayed me: The (partial) Quebec setting of Wash This Blood ..., and the arrival of a review copy in the mail. I already had a copy, but this latest one was a sign!

July 20, 2007  
Blogger Maylin said...

Hi Peter,
Thanks for stopping by our blog - I'm so glad you have become a fan of Fred Vargas. Do read The Three Evangelists - not an Adamsburg novel, but extremely funny and quirky. The one thing she got wrong in Wash This Blood (as confirmed by a bunch of Ottawa librarians when I was chatting up this book to them) was having Adamsburg go to Dorval airport to get back to Paris. Apparently, you can easily catch a flight to Paris from Ottawa International - mind you, maybe he went to Dorval to put greater distance between himself and Hull. Still, I think he arrived there too, if I'm not mistaken.

July 27, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the comment, Maylin, and welcome. I've just started reading Have Mercy On Us All, which is off to a promising start, and I'll look into The Three Evangelists, about which I have read good things and which has a suitably weird and entertaining premise.

Adamsberg and the French delegation did arrive at Dorval, as well. Perhaps Vargas was unaware, as was I, of Paris-Ottawa flights. In retrospect, Ottawa is a national capital; it makes sense for it to have an airport that offers easy access to other national capitals. Perhaps Vargas' thinking was that the Paris people would deal only with biggest airports. Or perhaps she wanted to keep all the action in Quebec, since Quebecois-French misunderstanding was such a big part of the novel.

Perhaps, likeliest of all, she never gave the matter a moment's thought!

July 27, 2007  

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