Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Fairy Gunmother

This book was published in France way back in 1987 as La Fée Carabine, but to me it was still a revelation. It concerns a series of unrelated crimes—old women being murdered for their money, a journalist being beaten near to death and dumped in the river, and a cop getting shot dead—in then-contemporary Belleville (that’s a northern suburb of Paris). What links them? Well, the involvement of professional Scapegoat Benjamin Malussènne, his unorthodox and large extended family (comprising four granddads, his chronically pregnant mother, and her seven children by different fathers, not to mention his brazen girlfriend Julie, his epileptic dog Julius, and his boss Queen Zabo), Pastor the young, idiosyncratic policeman, who always gets his signed confessions, and Inspector Van Thian, about whom I’d better not say anything lest I spoil the surprise.

Indeed, there’s very little I can tell you about The Fairy Gunmother unless I want to ruin for you the adventure and laugh-out-loud enjoyment of following these madcap characters through a variety of situations that will make you gasp and squirm. It’s not for the faint of heart, with extremely ripe language, and some would say it sees a completely fallen and cynical world through an optimist’s (Amélie Poulain’s?) rose- tinted glasses. But it’s hilarious and totally unique. At less than 250 pages it’s a breezy read and has been translated excellently, I’m sure, by Ian Monk. In this environment, even Batman would be out of his depth; surely he would slip on the black ice in the shape of Africa that is part of the crucial and memorable opening scene.

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