Top critical review
Royale with Cheese
on 22 September 2014
How's The Pain is an odd little French novella. It opens with a death, and then we spend the rest of the piece trying to work out how we got there.
Broadly, the novella features Simon Marechall, who works in pest control, hiring Bernard, the indolent son of Anais - a woman who pretends to run a shop to mask her own inactivity - to drive him to and from one last job. On the way they meet various people and discover more about each other. There is an air of menace throughout and one fears for Bernard. Bernard is intriguing; optimistic, very selective in the application of his moral scruples, and desperately in need of a life away from his mother. Anais, too, casts a long shadow despite featuring only briefly. Her belief that the world owes her a living is staggering; she refuses to carry money and resents even the one night Bernanrd is away from home. Simon is thinly drawn; he seems not to have much meaningful past and really just plays a role of listening to Bernard.
Not much happens. It's a bit like Pulp Fiction where the two guys spend time nonchalantly discussing life, the universe and Royales with Cheese in between acts of evil. Here in France we have those conversations in servoes and campsites rather than in diners and parking lots, but the idea is the same.
How's The Pain bills itself as a full novel. It isn't. It is a competent novella but it lacks the depth and character development of a novel. It does create an atmosphere of menace but doesn't do much with it. Being a French work, set in France, it is too easy to categorise it as Noir, but the comic repartee should really disqualify it from that category. I think this is the kind of book that a publisher would decribe as "hard to place". It's the second Pascal Garnier work I have read; both were OK but not hing to suggest I should seek out a third.