This is my review of L’Absolue Perfection du crime by Tanguy Viel,Johan Faerber.
I purchased this by mistake, thinking it was an annotated copy of the novel itself. In fact, it is a very detailed “study guide” of the type used to help students pass exams. Perhaps the brevity and clarity of Tanguy Viel’s writing lends itself to being selected for “set texts”.
The novel, which you need to purchase separately, possibly from Amazon.fr, is an account of an attempted “perfect crime”, the robbery of a casino by a small gang in a French seaside town. You know from the outset that matters will not go according to plan. Much of the interest lies in enjoying the author’s distinctive, deliberately repetitive and often rhythmic style, and his playing with time e.g. building up to a dramatic climax which is then described as if “after the event”.
The guide focuses on the rivalry, reminiscent of Cain and Abel, between the “faux frères”, the enigmatic and brutal man of action Marin, and the more passive and introspective narrator, whose name appears to be Pierre although I missed this on my first reading. Pierre strikes me as altogether too articulate and insightful to be a member of a mafia-style gang, but this point is not explored.
The guide rams its points home with an almost hypnotic repetition, so that I would advise reading it after tackling the real thing. I did not appreciate when doing so that each chapter is based on a specific Hollywood noir thriller from the 1950s, so it is useful to discover what these are, although I think that this device gives the novel a somewhat mechanical and contrived quality. Various metaphors are highlighted, such as the frequent references to the rearview mirror of Marin’s car, as a way of indicating a tendency to be backward-looking.
In a very thorough analysis of the book from every aspect, the guide is useful in explaining Viel’s fascination bordering on obsession with the cinema – although this has in fact recently declined. His belief that it is hard to create anything new in writing has led to his continual reference to existing cinematic films in order to construct “remakes” using the written word, a reversal of the usual process, although I would argue that Viel’s more recent “Paris-Brest” is in fact quite original. Perhaps his previous approach has fed this new creativity.
My main criticism of the guide is that it tends to overdo telling us what we should think, and does not leave space for personal speculation and interpretation.