Faire le vide

This is my review of Arab Jazz by Karim Miske.

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Karim Miské was praised for his prescience in portraying the dysfunctional immigrant youth of the 19th arrondissement in Paris who are prey to the kind of fundamentalist extremism of those responsible for the attack. In a January 2015 interview in The Independent, Miské comes across as a thoughtful and insightful man, “Arab Jazz” has won prizes as a “literary” detective thriller, and perhaps it is meant to be a parody of a corrupt, greedy society with distorted values, but I was very disappointed by this novel.

Ahmed, an immigrant from North Africa, is addicted to violent thrillers as what seems like a counterproductive way of escaping from his traumatic past. As he sits reading on his balcony, drops of blood falling from above alert him to the brutal murder of his neighbour Laura who has shown him friendship. An air hostess who has severed links with her extremist Jehovah’s witness parents, Laura has been the subject of what looks like a ritual killing involving pork for which Ahmed fears he will be framed. The ensuing revelation of the facts is due not to the investigative powers of the two young detectives who although described as intellectuals display absolutely no evidence of this, but rather to the author’s tendency to indulge in lengthy, indigestible information dumps instead of making the effort to “show” us any development of plot, character or motive.

With its clunky, often implausible plot, two-dimensional characters, its crude stereotypes, relying far too much on psychotics, psychopathic policemen, and power-hungry, manipulative, hypocritical religious maniacs, its hammy violence alternating with corny sentimentality, and its amoral tastelessness and simplistic thinking without a trace of subtlety, “Arab Jazz” is like a garish strip cartoon. This impression is heightened by Miské’s habit of lapsing into capital letters at dramatic moments:

“LE CRIME

LEUR CRIME”

Or “DERNIER VOYAGE” for someone about to be bumped off.

I read to the end to improve my French – if this can be said of extending my vocabulary for sex, drugs and mild pornography – and to take part in a book group discussion, which could at least consider the book in the context of the current state of French urban society.

⭐⭐ 2 Stars

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