If this painting seems to you an odd choice to illustrate a comment about a crime novel of rural French life, you may be open to the appeal of Pierre Magnan's The Murdered House.
The book is more somber than Magnan's Death in the Truffle Wood, but it shares with that novel a careful study of mysteries and motives amid lives that move more slowly than those most of us are used to and probably would appear calm to those of us on the outside.
I'll have more to say later, perhaps about Magnan's unsurpassed handling of that crime-fiction staple, the long-ago act whose consequences unfold years later. For now, this:
"Then, as soon as Séraphin put his foot to the ground, the stranger who had been following the shepherds' retreat suddenly turned round, and Séraphin realized immediately why they had fled in disarray. He was a geule cassée: one of those men who had survived the war, but with a dreadfully disfigured face; one of those faces no one would raise a hand to, for fear that all those who had died in the war would rise in a body at such sacrilege.I like that passage for its mix of compassion and horror, with no attempt to downplay or overstate either. But mostly I like the intrusion of an advanced, urban-based twentieth-century artist on a story of slow-burning rural life. Magnan's book is a reminder that the last century was more complicated than technology-minded potted histories give it credit for.
"`Yes,' the man said, `there's a painter who does this now ... called Juan Gris. I could be a model for him.'
"When he laughed — and he laughed often — it was an unbearable sight."
(Here's a chance to look inside a few of Magnan's books. Here's his Web site, in French.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2009