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Tanguy Viel–ARTICLE 353

“Nobody wants to fall overboard fully clothed into the ocean anywhere in the world, even close to shore – it’s such a surprise for the body to find itself in this new element.  One moment, the man is on a bench in a boat, chatting at the stern rail while rigging his lines and the next he’s in another world, with gallons of salt water, numbing cold, and the weight of wet clothes making it hard to swim.”

cover article 353With this opening paragraph, author Tanguy Viel is off and running with a propulsive story which never lets down and never quits until the last possible moment, when its ending comes as a relief or an irony to the involved reader.  Set in Finistere, a depressed waterfront community in Brittany in the late 1990s, a man stands before a judge, trying to explain how and why he has killed another man aboard that man’s own Merry Fisher boat, and then returned home to await the inevitable arrival of the local police a few hours later.  When he sees them arriving, he cannot help but admit that he “wouldn’t have done anything different…I would have done the same thing, heaved Antoine Lazenec overboard the same way and brought the boat back in the same way, following the channel to the yacht harbor while respecting the green and red buoys like railroad signals…”  The killer, Martial Kermeur, is anxious to set the record straight, and he is impressed that this judge is “thirty, at most” and really seems to want to hear him out.  In descriptive and involving prose, Kermeur describes his thoughts – “no they weren’t thoughts, images maybe…still whirling around…as if I were a cormorant aloft on a shifting breeze, scanning the sea for a tiny shadow or glint that would justify my diving to catch something, anything, so long as it was a place to begin….” And then suddenly, he sees the whole picture and begins:  “It’s about a run-of-the-mill swindle, Your Honor, that’s all.”

Author Tanguy Viel.

Author Tanguy Viel.

Establishing the background of his isolated community for the reader (since the judge would, of course, already know it), Martial Kermeur states his belief that if the town had been bigger and more connected to the real world, that they would have recognized the victim, Antoine Lazenec, for what he truly was, a swindler.  Lazenec’s arrival in his cream-colored Porsche 911 was “like a hand reaching out to pull us from the waves,” and his big plans to buy the local chateau and the land around it and develop it are an exciting possibility for the five thousand “somewhat tired” people living on the peninsula where “heaven’s been hard on us for a long time.”  More than eighty percent of the workers at the large Arsenal shipyard have, in fact, been laid off in the past three years, and no new businesses have taken its place.  With good layoff bonuses for the former workers, many “guys who look too young to be retired” have become fishermen with their own boats.  Kermeur has become a caretaker for the estate of the chateau, living there in his own cottage, but he dreams of having his own Merry Fisher boat some day.  Lazenec’s arrival with his big plans comes at a time when some of the former shipyard workers still have layoff bonuses to spend, perhaps participating in the action of the new “seaside resort.”

The 1990 Polestar 911 Porsche, the car which Lazenec used upon his arrival at Finistere.

The 1990 Polestar 911 Porsche, the car which Lazenec used upon his arrival at Finistere.

All this information is revealed in the first thirty pages of this novella, and it is from this point on that many readers will become so involved with the characters and the predicament of Kermeur and others in the community that they will read the entire book nonstop.  I have quoted more here than I usually do in reviews to give a sense of the author’s intensely involving use of detail, especially in making Kermeur feel real and likable despite his obvious crime.  Kermeur, of course, in addition to being caught up in some action beyond his control, is also a weak man, often convincing himself to give in when that seems to be the easiest choice.  When he is flattered by Lazenec, who builds him up when talking about the future of the building project “at maturity,” Kermeur admits “something in me was swelling with pride or, I don’t know, sovereignty,” as Lazenec continues to plant seeds in his brain about the future.  Ultimately, Kermeur admits, “It was as if the captain who was supposed to be living with me in my brain had abandoned the ship even before the wreck began.   Maybe he was on some distant rock, his eyes wild….”  Still, Kermeur remains a sympathetic character because he is so vulnerable, so hopeful, and so desperate for respect within his family and his community, a combination rife with potential disaster.

The Merry Fisher, the boat which all the former workers at the Arsenal Shipyard wanted to buy with their layoff bonuses.

The Merry Fisher, the boat which all the former workers at the Arsenal Shipyard wanted to buy with their layoff bonuses.

Kermeur’s late awareness of both Lazenec’s manipulations combined with his own feelings of powerlessness in the face of Lazenec’s effects on the community at large, stimulate empathy in the reader, despite the fact that the story line itself verges on sentimentality and sometimes feels over-written.  The fast pacing and the careful use of flashbacks to release background material, which effectively increase the drama as the novel progresses, keep the reader totally involved and focused on the progression of the inevitable disaster. The dramatic tension increases as the reader becomes aware of the book’s almost allegorical parallels with some current, well-known scams and scammers.  And as the fallout from Lazenec’s “business plan” affects more and more citizens, the situation begins to sound like contemporary TV news with all its headlines.  Viel cleverly keeps the story and its characters paramount, however, and leaves it to the reader to draw the obvious, wider conclusions, as individuals whom the readers comes to know become – naively – more and more entangled in the horrors which ultimately affect their lives.  As the killer, Kermeur, and the judge confront each other from different points of view, the reader cannot help but think of some of these parallels and “what-ifs” on a larger scale than the limited setting of this book.

The spectre of jail dominates much of the action and the lives of some of the characters here.

The specter of jail dominates much of the action and the lives of some of the characters here.

The conclusion will be celebrated by some readers and reviled by others.  Author Viel has created an absorbing and honest look at a situation with, perhaps, no “right” answer, at least not one which will satisfy all readers.  The best aspect of Viel’s writing is that he ends the book at exactly the right time, keeping it short and pertinent, and not expanding into all the what-ifs which some authors insist on.  His descriptive style and ability to create memorable images should make this one of the favorites of international fiction fans and a huge hit with book clubs throughout the country.

Photos.  The author photo appears on https://www.lairedu.fr

The 1990 Polestar 911 Porsche, the car which Lazenec used upon his arrival at Finistere, was a sign that Lazenec was not like all the people in Finistere which he was trying to impress.  https://www.automobilesreview.com/

Many of the laid off workers from the Arsenal worked to purchase a Merry Widow boat for use as a fishing boat as a way to support their families.  https://www.sea-ventures.co.uk/

The specter of jail dominates much of the action and the lives of some of the characters here.  http://clipart-library.com/

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Book Club Suggestions, France, Literary, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Tanguy Viel
Published by: Other Press
Date Published: 03/12/2019
ISBN: 978-1590519332
Available in: Ebook Paperback

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