“Paris-Brest” by Tanguy Viel – A novel kind of crime story

This is my review of Paris-Brest by Tanguy Viel.

Brought up in provincial Brest, which he condemns as the most frightful in France (by reason of its postwar reconstruction in brutal concrete), Louis suffers the family shame of his once highly respected father being accused of some part in the embezzlement of fourteen million francs. These are offset by the eighteen million fortuitously inherited by his grandmother. Underlying this are Louis’s relationships with his cruel, snobbish and hypochondriac mother and with “le fils Kermeur”, son of the cleaner his grandmother inherits with her fortune. Kermeur is both a kind of Nemesis leading Louis astray, and a tool for him to wreak revenge on his mother.

This is an odd story, original and quirky, which, after a slow start, reveals the plot in layers of detail. It hooked me at last in Section 3, “Le fils Kermeur” in which the previous flippant humour is compounded with some moments of real tension. The style is distinctive, varying between passages of repetition and step-by-step logic, which chime with the book’s wry humour, and introspective streams of consciousness which are often striking and the source of the more moving passages.

This short novel manages to seem both lightweight and deep, which I found it hard to rate at first, although I have been encouraged to obtain more of Tanguy Viel’s short novels, “Insoupçonnable” and L’absolue . On a second reading, I was more impressed by the subtlety and coherence of the plot.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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