Monday, 30th October 2017

E- paper

Trailing clouds

THREE DAYS AND A LIFE By Pierre Lemaitre, MacLehose, Rs 399

By Bhaswati Chakravorty
  • Published 3.11.17

THREE DAYS AND A LIFE By Pierre Lemaitre, MacLehose, Rs 399

The structure of Pierre Lemaitre's new novel matches its title, Three Days and a Life, almost perfectly. Three days in the life of the 12-year-old Antoine, son of Madame Courtin, in December 1999 are described in 161 pages of a 251-page novel. The two following sections depict Antoine's situation and actions as an aspiring student of medicine in 2011, and as doctor in 2015. The three days of the first section are packed with feelings, observations, characters, delicate yet incisive accounts of the complexities of life in small-town France where everyone knows everyone else, and the sequence of events that will pursue Antoine for the rest of his life.

The novel turns on the sudden disappearance of Rémi, Antoine's much younger neighbour. Briefly and precisely sketched in is Antoine's growing loneliness, which is the remote cause for much that follows. The loneliness is not an abstract indulgence; we can see it developing from his mother's refusal to let him go and play with friends in the house of the privileged boy who has a PlayStation. This, again, is a symbol of change coming to Beauval, Antoine's town, a change affecting all its residents and making them angry. Weiser, the mayor, is also the biggest employer, for he owns the wooden toy factory that might soon have to sack employees, all of them local people, as electronic toys begin to take over. All these threads, some visible, some sunk out of sight, converge at certain moments, as when, at the beginning of the search for the child, the mayor faces the angry father: "It was difficult to tell whether Monsieur Desmedt's anger stemmed from his role as Rémi's father, or as Weiser's employee."

Lemaitre is a pleasure to read, yet although he is famed for his dark, psychological, crime thrillers, this is not one of them. But there is suspense in the tale: it becomes a condition of Antoine's life. He is trapped by his own actions, and he must also confront, bit by bit, what others know. The irony is almost classical, the twists quick and muted, and occasionally too aptly timed. The story, though, remains unexciting.