Rough Trade by Dominique Manotti

rough tradeRough Trade by Dominique Manotti

Translated by Margaret Crosland and Elfreda Powell

Arcadia Books, 2001

Originally published as Sombre Sentier, 1995

I borrowed my copy from the library.

I was eager to read Dominique Manotti’s first novel after loving The Lorraine Connection earlier this year, and my verdict is that The Lorraine Connection is a tauter, more interesting novel than this, her first. Rough Trade begins with a very violent murder of a young Thai prostitute, and the investigation is led by Theo Dauquin of the Paris Drugs Squad. It’s an investigation that begins with a couple characters “on the fringe of a very complicated case,” (p. 88) that quickly becomes very far-reaching, and it frankly was a bit too complicated for me to enjoy. The novel is quite violent, the plot is very involved, and the crime syndicate Daquin investigates is involved in about every kind of unsavory criminal activity I could think of. It’s not my favorite Manotti because it feels more sprawling than The Lorraine Connection. That’s not to say that the pacing was slow or that the writing wasn’t good: it’s just a very relentless crime story.

The setting for the novel is the Sentier neighborhood, center of the garment industry in Paris, in 1980. The political backdrop is the push by Turkish immigrants to get legal working papers, and one of their leaders is also a police informant having a personal relationship with his handler, Daquin. Manotti’s background as a trade unionist came into play in this story. The tone of the story is very dry and reads a bit like a reporter’s diary of the case and the environs where the story takes place: there are lots of stories inside the general assembly of the undocumented workers as well as in several workshops manned by undocumented workers.

Finally I want to mention that the translation felt a bit stiff to me. The translators kept referring to the “rag trade,” instead of the garment industry, and at one point mentioned “a man of straw,” instead of a straw man, and those phrases felt like clunkers to me.

Other reviews appear in Euro Crime, and I enjoyed this lengthy interview with Manotti and her translator Amanda Hopkinson.

16 thoughts on “Rough Trade by Dominique Manotti

  1. Rebecca – I like the Paris setting, but to be honest, I have to be convinced to read a novel with a lot of brutal violence in it. Once in a while it’s appropriate for a story, but often it’s not. And I know what you mean about complicated plot threads. And I’m sorry to hear that the translation didn’t work for you either. Hmm…..I may try another of her books.

    • I’ve read positive reviews of a few of her other books– and I loved The Lorraine Connection– so I hope you find something not to violent to enjoy, Margot.

      And on the issue of translators, it looks like her other books are done by different translators.

  2. I really need to read her and I think I have the Lorraine Connection. Will dig it out. Sorry to hear that this one wasn’t as good as her follow-up. This is why I usually skip first books.

    • So you’re not a completist like me?? I understand completely: debut novels can be hit-or-miss unless you’re somebody like Scott Turow that wrote a handful of novels before Presumed Innocent was published.

      Hope you get to The Lorraine Connection sometime, Keishon.

  3. Thanks for a thoughtful piece: I must give Manotti a try.

    I wonder if the translators were aiming for a 1980s feel? Both the phrases you single out wouldn’t seem so odd in 1980 . . . and boring old farts like me still talk about the garment industry as the rag trade!

    • I never thought about those phrases being appropriate for 1980: good point.

      I hope you enjoy Manotti. Her new novel Escape is/was published this summer.

  4. I’ve read and liked a few Manotti books, some in French and some in English, but not this one. Sometimes I enjoy a complicated plot with lots of different threads – but I have to be in the mood for it.

    • Hope you like them, Tracy. Also, to change the subject, I need to comment on your Linda Grant post– my attempt to do so late at night was foiled by Blogger log-ins….

  5. I read (or tried to read) Affairs of State. Could barely figure it out; a friend had to explain the plot to me. The Lorraine Connection may be one I try.
    By the way, I’m from New York. Historically, there has been and still is a thriving garment industry, which has factories or sweatshops throughout Manhattan, showrooms, etc.. And there was also an actual “rag trade,” where wheeler/dealers bought and sold used clothing or “rags.” So two different industries. There is quite a colorful Yiddish expression for the later type of business that’s very New Yorkish. It makes me laugh to think of it.

    • This plot was very convoluted– more so than Lorraine Connection– and sometimes I don’t mind those plots (Alan Glynn comes to mind), but it was a bit too confusing for me. Maybe I should read the next Daquin novel, Dead Horsemeat, instead of Affairs of State.

      Thanks for the insight on the rag trade phrase: I thought it was outdated, but I guess not. Shmata, right?

  6. I think originally for people coming from Europe, “schmatta dealer” meant literally, people who bought and sold “rags.” But as the garment industry progressed, the term came to mean middlemen (middlepeople?) who ordered clothing from factories and then sold it. They didn’t own the factories, but dealt in garments, made money buying and selling at a higher price.
    But in my growing up years, my mother, whose parents’ first language was Yiddish, used a lot of terms from the language. And if clothing, ours or anyone else’s didn’t look up to par, they were “schmattas.”

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