cover blurb on one of Jean-Patrick Manchette's novels once referred to the author's "post-1968 leftism." It has taken several years and the work of another politically oriented French crime writer to make me realize that the phrase is more than an ungainly and vacuous neologism.
The novelist in question is Dominique Manotti, whose Escape
includes the following:
"There was an initial forging of collective thinking and a collective will."
"`That open letter could be the starting point for a collective analysis. We need to read it and discuss it, together and with other left-wing organisations.'"
The second bit is dialogue, if you can believe that anyone would ever talk, as opposed to write, like that. Sure, that's a character speaking, not the author. But Russel McLean's interview with Manotti
suggests that Manotti's own nostalgia and regrets figure in the book. "We were passionate," she tells McLean, "and a large part of France's far left was influenced by the Italians." (Much of the novel's early action, at least, takes place among Italian political refugees in France.)
Having read Manotti's previous work, with its astringent observations about the depravity of the French elite
and that elite's horrifying exploitation of migrant workers
, and having found nothing in that work approaching the clumsy political speech sprinkled through the opening pages of Escape
, I wonder if Manotti is better off sticking to dispassionate analysis and avoiding nostalgic recollection of her own activism.
That's where Jean-Patrick Manchette's "post-1968 leftism" comes in. The three latest of the four novels of his that have been translated into English, published in their original French between 1976 and 1981, have moved well beyond the possibility of talking seriously about collective anything. I don't recall the word struggle
occurring in any of the books.
The earliest of Manchette's novels available in English, though the most recently translated, suggests, as does Escape
, that nostalgia and politically pointed fiction do not always go well together. The novel is called The Mad and the Bad
"at the worst, it reads as a mildly nostalgic reminder of a time before the triumph of consumerism, corporations, celebrity, and "content" was complete, before a time when multibillion-dollar corporations like Facebook and Apple were considered cool."
But Manchette got the nostalgia out of his system, and 3 to Kill
(original publication 1976), Fatale
(1977), and The Prone Gunman
(1981), are three dark, stark noir classics
, the last of them in particular chilling for its dissection of how powerful elites can exploit, debase, and discard an individual no longer of use to them, an individual, that is, who has no recourse to collective action or the struggle.
And now, in a collective spirit, I turn the question to you, readers, and ask: Is sharp political crime fiction incompatible with authorial nostalgia?
© Peter Rozovsky 2014
Labels: Dominique Manotti, France, Jean-Patrick Manchette, politics, Russel D. McLean