Life and Death under Occupation

This is my review of La bicyclette bleue, Tome 3 : Le Diable en rit encore : 1944-1945 by Régine Deforges.

This third part of "La Bicyclette bleue" saga covering 1944-45 is darker than the earlier novels in its focus on the hardship and uncertainty of war. Lea Delmas is forced to grow up quickly, putting her fun-loving self-indulgence on hold as she becomes so involved in the Resistance that she can no longer live openly at her family estate without fear of being denounced.

This novel seems to be a homage to the Resistance, and the author succeeds in portraying the particular horror and sadness of a country invaded with little prospect of regaining freedom, and the sometimes fatalistic courage of those who continued to risk their lives for this cause. We continue to see Lea's family and employees at Montillac divided in their loyalties. Regine Déforges does not shrink from ramming home the tedium of a lengthy occupation or from killing off a number of key characters close to Lea.

There are some scenes of real tension, including the disruption of the joyful celebration of De Gaulle's march into Paris, as snipers on the roof of Notre Dame send people running for cover. I learned some interesting history from the novel such as how some French collaborators, perhaps fearing their fate if they tried to remain at home, volunteered to fight on in Germany with the SS even after the liberation of Paris, in a desperate last ditch attempt to defeat the Russian communists in a war that was clearly lost.

Although the plot flags a little at times, Déforges manages to keep pulling a new twist out of the bag to hold one's interest, even if it is only another unannounced appearance of hunky lover Francois Tavernier, macho to the point of creating unease (but it's all right because Lea likes it), who somehow manages to accomplish unspecified missions of great importance without risking his life much, and has no qualms about obtaining the best luxuries the black market can supply. There are as ever too many unlikely coincidences: A meets B on the point of perishing in battle, then dies in turn just after meeting C who is able to pass on news about A to D.

Although I might be more critical of this drama if written in English, it is an excellent means of developing one's French, and is quite moving and informative in places.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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