France, review, Translated

Irène by Pierre Lemaitre

ireneIrène by Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne

MacLehose Press, December 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

Book 1: Commandant Verhoeven

I read Irène without knowing much about it. I’ve had the second book in the trilogy but first to be translated book, Alex, in my TBR folder on my Kindle for ages, I know Lemaitre’s books tend to be quite violent, but other than that I went into the book blind. But while I went into the book blind, I unavoidably have to talk about what to expect.

Irène involves the short Commandant Verhoeven with a very pregnant wife, Irène, leading the investigation into a series of killings inspired by crime novels. The murders are quite brutal, and I admit that I skimmed some gruesome sections in order to get on with the story. I admit that I missed some of the resonances because I’ve only read one of the books that inspired one of the murders, but that particular section was a very good homage to the original.

The rest of the story focuses on the dynamics within Camille’s team, and they are an interesting bunch. I’m also particularly interested in their police interrogation techniques because I recently read an old New Yorker article about the Reid interrogation technique in the United States and how it may contribute to false confessions. Seeing a different approach in fiction in France was a good antidote to that approach.

The book feels very indebted to other crime novels, and not in a disturbing way like the serial killer’s homage to those fictional murder scenes. But there is a major twist in the story that explains why the violence is so incredibly brutal in the majority of the book, and for that I’m inclined to give Lemaitre a pass for the horrible murders. I’m a bit reluctant to do so  despite the twist and despite the explanation. See also Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool. It’s hard to get involved with a story that seems to be so much about proving a point about violence (or misogyny in Koch’s case) because I’m still reading a very violent or misogynistic book. I’m still unsettled by the book.

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10 thoughts on “Irène by Pierre Lemaitre”

  1. I haven’t read this one yet. I’m always reluctant to recommend this author because the violence is so brutal. In the end, it’s the substance of the novel as a whole that will win me over.

    1. I’m ambivalent about the book even though I think Lemaitre is an astonishingly good writer. I couldn’t stop reading, and only when I stepped back from the book did it really start to bother me, which was the point, I think. I can’t wait to read his book about WWI (not sure when it will be out in English).

  2. I have Alex on my Kindle also, and since I now know Irene precedes it in the series, I am waiting to read that one. I am aware of the violence and not too thrilled about it, but I have to try them, based on recommendations. It will be interesting when I do read them.

    Thanks for this review which is very helpful.

    1. I look forward to your thoughts, Tracy. It’s a really compelling read though it was very violent, and it’s a novel that definitely want to discuss, especially with people who’ve read the other books that were inspirations.

  3. Rebecca – I must admit, it’s that brutality that’s had me hesitating so much to read this. I really have to be persuaded to take a chance on a book with that much ugly violence. Hmmm….

  4. Yes, it was violent, but it did feel like there was a point to all that violence, which isn’t what I’ve felt sometimes with other books. The author himself in interviews claims: ‘In the case of Irène especially, this accusation of ‘graphic scenes’ doesn’t make sense, because all the scenes were inspired by other novels…’.

  5. I was unsettled by the book and after having already read Alex, I couldn’t continue reading as I knew what was going to happen. I found Alex to be the better book for me. He didn’t seem to be trying so hard. More settled into his writers skin.

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