Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fred Vargas' physical and human geography

I wrote a few months ago about Fred Vargas' keen and amused interest in the physical and human geography of her native country. My comment concerned Seeking Whom He May Devour and its road trip through southeastern France, but I could as easily have discussed Have Mercy On Us All, with its old Breton town crier in Paris.

The tour continues in This Night's Foul Work, one of whose early chapters takes commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg to Normandy, where,"When men foregather for a drink in the evening, the newcomer is inevitably spotted, weighed up and rejected or accepted. In Normandy, like everywhere else, and possibly a bit more so than anywhere else."

The chapter also takes a lighthearted look at the particularism of France's innumerable regions:

"Caen's in Lower Normandy,"Anglebert explained. "Here you're in Upper Normandy."

"And that's important?"

"Let's just say you don't compare them. The real Normandy's the Upper one, here."

... "But you watch out," Robert added. "Over there in Calvados, they'll tell you different. But don't you listen to them."
That same gang of sturdy Normans out for an evening's drink makes an observation or two about Parisians and about natives of Adamsberg's own region in the Pyrenees. Once again, Vargas accomplishes the considerable feat of giving a reader a feeling of intimacy with a large and widely varying country.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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