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by Olivier Pauvert and Adriana Hunter, trans.
Counterpoint, December 2008
225 pages
ISBN: 1582434476

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

An unnamed Frenchman glimpses the murdered body of a young woman. This woman was once beautiful but is now gruesome yet strangely familiar. When the scene shifts, the protagonist is under arrest, handcuffed and on his way to prison. The van crashes and the protagonist is the only one to survive. He flees the crash site still in handcuffs and in his prison garb. He finds his way to a strange mansion and spends the night. There he discovers a man who frightens him so much he flees from the house.

Believing that everything will make sense once he returns to his wife, he heads home. Only then does he realizes that nothing he remembers is real. His wife is married to another man and fears the protagonist. His friends recoil from him and try to humiliate him. In hopes of learning why, he peers into a mirror. There he receives a shock – he cannot see himself. The only way he is able to see himself is by looking into other people’s eyes. This view frightens him as rather than the face he expects to see, he sees a severely handicapped man.

It is now illegal for people who are not perfect looking to be on the streets so he is an outlaw. The Ministry of Racial Differences is after him as is the National Militia. In addition, everyday citizens are allowed to attack him, as his very existence is illegal. As the protagonist struggles to remember his past and his actions in the young woman’s murder, he also must also see how the decisions and choices he made in his life have impacted the fascist country his beloved France has become.

While NOIR: A NOVEL can be classified as a mystery; it is unlike almost all of the other books that fall into this genre. The mysterious characters who lack names, personalities and who face moral choices are more reminiscent of Franz Kafka than Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler. This book requires a reader that is given to introspection and ponders the politics that cause dystopias rather than a reader in search of developed characters, a crime and a resolution. Therefore NOIR: A NOVEL falls more into the literary genre than the mystery genre

Once I was able to put aside my prejudices – i.e. expecting developed or at least named characters and clear decisions or opinions – I found myself enjoying NOIR: A NOVEL. Olivier Pauvert accurately present the turmoil and confusion anyone would feel who fall into a despotic and brutal world. In addition he philosophizes about the seemingly innocent ideas people have and the seemingly inconsequential actions that can completely transform the world when enough people hold the same ideas and take the same actions.

I would not recommend NOIR: A NOVEL to the typical mystery readers simply because the book cannot be classified as a crime fiction novel. Instead, I would recommend this book to readers interested in political thought and morality, or prefer books that force the reader to fill in the elements of the plot that the author leaves vague.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, March 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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