Thursday, July 24, 2014

Manchette's The Mad and the Bad: Suspense, anti-consumerism, and nostalgia

Jean-Patrick Manchette wrote his novels at a time when the Situationist movement had gone political. He had first become attracted to the movement, though, when its focus was more artistic and less theoretical, and his novels, at least the ones translated into English, as politically pointed as they are, almost never let the politics get in the way of a good story.  Thus, after a shoot-out in vast department store,
"Julie strove to extricate them. Fortunately other victims came tumbling out, bemoaning their singed perms ..."
That's from The Mad and the Bad, an English translation of Manchette's 1972 novel O dingos, O chateaux! newly published by New York Review Books, and at the worst, it reads as a mildly nostalgic reminder of a time before the triumph of consumerism, corporations, celebrity, and "content" was complete, before a time when multibillion-dollar corporations like Facebook and Apple were considered cool.

But the novel still hits hard for its fugitives-on-the-run theme, for its avoidance of a tidy ending, and for moments like this, when one criminal henchman seeks his colleague and brother shot dead, and thinks this might be a good time to give up:
"Nénesse sighed, and two large tears sprang from his little eyes.  He tossed his weapon aside and waited to be arrested. At that moment the café's owner crossed the terrace in three strides and emptied both barrels of a shotgun into Nénesse's ear."
Manchette, who died in 1995 translated into French works by a number of American crime writers, including Donald Westlake and Ross Thomas. I don't know if he had worked on Westlake when he wrote The Man and the Bad, but the novel shares a narrative strategy with Westlake used often: that of, sometime around mid-novel, relating an event already narrated by another character, and thus whose outcome the reader already knows. Manchette also loved Hammett and Chandler, so you know he was righteous.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger Unknown said...

Any book with "dingo" in its title has to be worth at least a glance. However, ever since my literary theory studies, I have always been suspicious of anything written by the French. But that is just my cynical aversion to politicized, theoretical BS.

July 25, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, Manchette was one of the leading exponents of the dingo school. You'll see as well from the bits of background I've included here that he was not adverse to being an -ist, in the French manner. But he liked comics, and he translated Westlake, both points in his favor.

I can understand your misgivings. Whenever I read a crime novel by a politically committed author, I am amazed when the politics do not get in the way of the story. Manchette pulls it off. I recommend The Prone Gunman especially.

July 25, 2014  

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