Friday, February 29, 2008

Dominique Manotti: Lorraine Connection

Dominique Manotti is an economic historian, and her novels have a historical quality: normally set in the recent past, in a specific social milieu and often tied to a specific, actual event, her novels tell the story of France's modern social evolution, for better and worse. But Lorraine Connection is a bit different from the others that have been translated so far. Like her policiers set in Paris, the style is fast: a third-person, present tense narrative moves breathlessly through the story. But unlike the others, Lorraine Connection has the same pseudo-documentary quality as the best political cinema (Battle of Algiers, Z, or more recently Bloody Sunday): real events in economic and corporate history are linked with a wide cast of characters (all of them flawed, even amoral or ruthless--another quality common to the policiers). None of the characters is a central character in any normal sense. One character that a reader may become attached to appears early in the novel and another more than a third of the way in. Neither is involved directly in the conclusion. But if a reader sets aside all expectations and succumbs to the faux-documentary style, the splintered narrative, and the basis in factual events, the impact of the novel is intense. It is the darkest of noir stories, investigating the damp underside of the global economy and its own central actors. Manotti apparently turned to noir fiction to adequately portray what had become of the society into which her idealistic generation of intellectuals in France were born and for which they had attempted to instigate change. Her analysis is pessimistic without giving up, paranoid without tipping over into conspiracy theories (instead she grounds her story in the facts, rather than the theories, of conspiracy. I'm a big fan of her police novels, but Lorraine Connection is more powerful, more disturbing, and even, if you give yourself up to her narrative style, more absorbing. Just to state a part of the story, to give you an idea of the story, the sequence of events begins with an industrial accident in a rural factory, leading to a labor action, a factory in flames, privatization of defense and high-tech companies, intrigue among corporate committees who lose out in the privatization competition, murder, revenge, coverups, more murders, blackmail, extortion, theft, painfully difficult families, and a melancholy detective. Enough for a wild, entertaining, and even informative ride.

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