Friday, July 29, 2011

Paris in July - Murder in Memoriam

Having a bit of trouble with my French book supply so we're skipping forward a few decades to a work written in 1984.

Didier Daenincxx's Murder in Memoriam caused a furore when it came out. It covers two pretty hot topics - covered up police brutality against Algerian French at a 1961 Paris demonstration, in which hundreds of unarmed protestors were killed, and collaboration during WW2. It was this historical angle that attracted me to the book. Sadly, despite some truly shocking historic incidents, Daenincxx does nothing with his subject matter. Two dark moments in French history and their shameful cover ups are outlined but not fully explored. They just kind of sit there as two isolated lumps in a very thin story. There's no characterization, no atmosphere - and coming from a diet of Simenon this really shows. There's not much of a mystery either but I've come to expect that from French detective stories and I don't mind that so much, I can tolerate the ginormous holes in his plotting. It's a pretty slim novella with very plain, perfunctionary writing. I was most disappointed.

This book won the French Prix du Roman Policier, largely I suspect for Daennicxx's courage in broaching a taboo subject. The book is credited with being a catalyst for forcing the French to re-examine its past by trying Nazi collaborators and making President Mitterrand declare 16 July a day of national reflection on fascism and racism. Pretty big claims.

As an agent for change, the book was clearly successful - though to an outsider it appears to be a timid attempt at a cry of outrage, this perhaps reflects how difficult it was to even raise these matters. As a work of literature however, it falls short. Shame, because there's a powerful story here that needs telling.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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