I discovered Pascal Garnier serendipitously, shovelling five or so books from a library shelf into a bag before a trip up to somewhere or other flogging our self-service system.
It was the Gallic edition cover of The Front Seat Passenger (jpg, large) that stood out. Recently, I’ve been reading House of Government and Stalingrad, absolutely huge books, so I wanted something I could gobble up in a couple of sittings, and that wouldn’t involve complicated propping up and page turning systems. The Garnier book had stuck with me. It looked short, thrillerish — and French. Perfect.
I’m glad to report this was a brilliant book, fitting for lockdown. A group of white, middle class retirees move to Les Conviviales, a gated community in the south of France. It’s horrible. The characters go insane in their own varyingly quiet ways, hurtling to an apocalyptic ending.
I really liked the way Garnier used a seemingly loose, down-to-earth style, only to stab you with a pinpoint image, or surprise with some quiet lyricism. Similarly, at times you felt he might be taking the perspective of a “sensible”, male character who never wanted to go to the community in the first place, only for this character to become the most insane of all, philosophising on a cosmic, murderous scale.
It is a bleak book — Garnier is pretty merciless with most of his characters — but it’s also funny and carried the hint of redemption in its fiery climax. Cheered me up no end.