This is my review of Insoupçonnable by Tanguy Viel.
In the opening chapter of this Hitchcockian tale, Sam describes his sister Lise’s wedding to ostentatiously wealthy older man Henri, a successful auctioneer in business with his brother Edouard, unaccountably absent from the proceedings. As soon becomes clear, Sam’s resentment and uneasiness have been stirred up because he and Lise are in fact lovers, with a plan to extort money from Henri to finance a new life together in America. It is clear from the outset that this scheme will not work out as intended, but Tanguy Viel transforms what could have been a hackneyed plot by means of some novel twists.
Having also read “L’Absolue perfection du crime” and “Paris-Brest” by the same author, I soon began to note some common factors despite clearly different plots: they are all short psychological dramas with a male narrator, all involve a crime, and evoke the kind of sea and coastline found in Brittany from where Tanguy Viel originates. All have a strongly visual, cinematic quality. In the last chapter, Sam describes his feeling of being at the cinema with back projection behind a stationary car, even symbolically of his sense of driving a false car round false bends in a false world. In fact, “Insoupçonnable” has been made into a film in France.
The most distinctive factor in Tanguy Viel’s novels is the style, which is a kind of stream of consciousness with thoughts, descriptions, memories, ideas, running into each other in a way that requires total, page-turning concentration, and which only makes sense if you literally “go with the flow”. I understand the reviewer who finds the tendency to repeat phrases a little contrived or pretentious, but I like the rhythmic, at time hypnotic, frequently poetic nature of the style. These comments apply to the original French since I fear it might suffer in translation.
Two aspects prevent me from finding this a “perfect” novel. One is the fact that since the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, we do not really care about them or feel moved on their account: although the author manages to arouse in me a sympathy for Sam despite his actions, we are never told anything about his or Lise’s background, nor what brought them together. It may of course be Tanguy Viel’s intention to make everyone pawns or inscrutable manipulators in a theatrical game which the reader enjoys without any emotional involvement. Also, to the extent that Sam appears to be a semi-educated layabout on the fringe of the criminal world, it seems odd that he can compare Henri with the literary character Charles Bovary, and that he generally speaks in such a lyrical voice, which is of course the author’s, the product of much labour made to look deceptively effortless.