Saturday, April 11, 2009
Mygale (or Tarangula) by Thierry Jonquet
Mygale (or Tarantula, in the U.K. edition), French crime novelist Therry Jonquet's first novel to be translated into English (by Donald Nicholson-Smith) begins like a series of short stories. Seemingly unrelated tales of 4 (or perhaps 5) people who are trapped in different ways in prisons not of their own making. The stories will, of course, come together gradually (the final one in an almost impossible-to-believe coincidence that is necessary not only for the plot but also the author's philosophical point). And it is a philosophical crime novel, in a very French sense (partaking as much of The Story of O and Georges Bataille's novels and theories as it does of Sebastien Japrisot (the French novelist whom perhaps Jonquet most resembles). It's no surprise that Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar, rather than, say, Quentin Tarrantino, is making a movie from Mygale. The novel is short and it's mostly narrative rather than dialogue, the narrator giving the stories from the eyes of each of the victims except one, who is addressed as "you" throughout his portion of the book. The tight narrative makes it difficult to say much about the story without giving too much away (and I would not recommend reading even the blurbs on the back cover--best to come to the story with as few preconceptions and as little prior knowledge as possible for full enjoyment of the tale and its structure). But if you're looking for something like Pierre Manchette, or Dominique Manottie, or Fred Vargas (there's no one quite like Ms. Vargas), this is not it.
It is instead an elegant, disturbing, and gender-bending tale of torture, rape, a bank robbery gone badly wrong, a fleeing criminal, prostitution, revenge, and misery, moving rapidly through its 128 pages. The English, French, and American covers reproduced here give some sense of the nature of the story, whose conclusion is surprising in some ways and philosophically inevitable at the same time: it's a high-concept crime novel, and it's very well written--but probably not for everybody.