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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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This is the kind of book that puts me into a quandary when it comes to 'reviewing' them (Beside the sea by Olmi was another one) because there is no doubt that this is an excellent book yet to say that I 'enjoyed' it, is impossible. Frankly when I finished it, I felt nauseous and depressed. Well-written in a very simple but straight to the point prose, you get instantly sucked into a grotesque, noir, horrific world of two deranged siblings, an old sister, locked in her house all her life since her twenties, and her brother, with an 'outside' life, acting seemingly normal with colleagues and friends, but really a murderer at heart. It takes place in a dreary no man's land part of some northern France, and if you want utter gloom, that's exactly what you get. The ending reaches a climax of horror that would do well as a horror film indeed. So yes, Garnier is a good writer and this is a rather fascinating short novel, but be warned. 'Noir' here, is extra noir!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 February 2013
I must confess to having a bit of a penchant for what I dub `bijou but perfect' reads- books that come in at less than 150 pages, invariably foreign fiction in translation and that reveal a whole world of human experience in such a condensed form. The late, great Pascal Garnier is one of my particular favourites with his amoral novelettes that plunge the depths of human sadness and frustration, and `The A26` is another perfect example of this.

Defying a straightforward classification of genre, I would loosely term this as a noir-esque thriller, but as the plot unfolds, I think maybe this is too simple a defintion. Ostensibly the plot is straightforward with Bernard, a man of mature years employed by the local railway coming to terms with the terminal illness eating away at him. Bernard comes to cope his own impending death by embarking on a murderous course of action. He lives with his sister Yolande, who not to put too fine a point on it is seriously mentally disturbed, having not left the house they share since 1945 when she was exposed as a Nazi collaborator and punished by the local villagers, whilst also trapped in the belief that the war is still on. She observes the world through a peephole, in the clutter and jumble of their ramshackle home, spending her days embarking on nonsensical flights of fancy, and venomous tirades about her persecutors with violent results. Her existence mentally in the past is made even more tangible when juxtaposed with the central motif of progress embodied in the building of the new road, marking the march of modernisation, and the sense of the world moving on without her.Through the murderous intentions of Bernard and the highly confused world of his sister Yolande, the reader is immersed into a dark tale encompassing death, isolation, suspicion and retribution. The violence when it comes is swift and brutal, but underpinning the book are moments of extreme poignancy which helps the story retain a core of decency in its examination of human relationships. Bernard, for example, has a deep-seated platonic relationship with a local woman called Jacqueline, who is married to a violent and boorish man and their lasting friendship is filled with the premise of opportunities lost and the wrong paths taken. Despite Bernard's less desirable actions his character, certainly for me, illicits an empathy in the reader, that here is a man who through loyalty to his sister has missed out on living to such an extent that his whole character is now defined by the prospect of dying.

Garnier's books are marked by their integration of strange characters into their French provincial settings as evinced by `The Panda Theory' and `How's The Pain?' and always retain at their heart a sense of human frailty, despite the blackness of the humour and at times horrific events. Combining the style of Simenon with the visual imagination and humour of the Coen Brothers, there is much to recommend these novellas. They are small works of literary genius, and I would urge you to discover them for yourselves.
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I should warn anyone who is thinking of reading this that this is very dark and brooding with some very black comedy indeed. Of course those who have read Garnier before will already be aware of this and once again will thrill at his sparse prose and the ability like Simenon to create a tale that says more than is actually written.

This story set in 1988 follows two people, a brother and sister. Yolande hasn’t left the house, which is all shuttered up since just after the Second World War, when she had her head shaved, and still to a large extent lives in that period. Bernard works for SNCF but this is about to change as he has a terminal illness and has been told he will soon die. Living in the house these two are surrounded by squalor and throw nothing away, reminding us all of those hoarders you hear about and see on TV. Living together this dysfunctional couple are shown in all their psychotic ways.

As Bernard cruises the area aimlessly so he starts showing his highly amoral ways, and we see what Yolande gets up to as well. With a motorway being built near the province where these two live we meet other characters and are given a contrast between lives that haven’t changed that much over the years, and the encroachment of modernity. A rather unpleasant story this really gets under your skin and makes it crawl, and this is one brother and sister you won’t forget in a hurry.

I was kindly provided with a review copy of this by the publisher via NetGalley.
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Brother and sister Bernard and Yolande have lived together all their lives. Yolande remains permanently holed up in their house, every door locked, every window covered, her only viewpoint on the world a small hole in one of the blinds. And for Yolande, the world she looks out on is still in the grip of WW2, a period that traumatised her so completely she has never recovered. Bernard has been the functional one, his job on the railway providing their income. He has given up his own chance of a personal life to look after his older sister. But now Bernard has been told that he is dying, and suddenly all the missed opportunities and disappointments of his life erupt into violence...

Given the novella length of this book, it packs a mighty punch. Ink-black noir, there are no gleams of light or humour to lift the tone. On the surface, Bernard and Yolande are a pair of extremely dysfunctional and disturbed siblings, each with their own streak of madness, and with the potential for violence simmering not far below the surface. The book has a thriller format, seen from the perspectives of the perpetrators of the various crimes that take place.

But it seems to me (though I may be over-analysing it) that the entire novella is a metaphor for a France still bleeding from the wounds inflicted on it in WW2 – the wounds of defeat, collaboration and betrayal – wounds that eventual victory may have covered, but with the thinnest of scar tissue, easily scratched away. The book was written in 1999, and is set perhaps a couple of decades before that, when many people were still alive who had lived through the war. And Garnier shows this couple as having been damaged even before the war began, much as France still reeled from the horrors inflicted upon its landscape and people in the First World War.

" 'Row upon row, their white tunics stained with blood like that bastard of a butcher. “I kill you, you kill me.” And the more they killed, the more of them sprang up again, it was truly miraculous! That's why there'll never be an end to the war – anyway, it's always been here, it's that kind of country, there's nothing else to do but go to war. The only thing that grows is white crosses.' "

Yolande had committed the crime of having an affair with a German soldier and had paid the price when her countrymen shaved her head to display her disgrace to the world. But Garnier's description shows that this episode was as much to do with lust and cruelty as justice and patriotism. The world may have forgotten Yolande's shame but she has never forgotten those who shamed her. There is the chance for Yolande to throw the past aside and go back out into the world, but she carries her prison with her in her mind. She's not a weak woman, far from it. Her selfishness makes her monstrous and it's hard to see her as having been a victim. She is a fact, a piece of history, a hidden scandal, France's shame. And that unresolved shame is shown metaphorically to be still shuddering through the later generations.

Bernard has watched the woman he loved marry another man – a cruel, boorish man who treats her badly, and when he receives his death sentence his pent-up frustrations and anger boil over into a murderous spree. There are some shocking scenes of violence and horror, but they're not written in an overly graphic way – Garnier is painting impressionistic images rather than drawing detailed pictures. His descriptions are full of craters and mud, and when he describes places he does it in terms of their association with battles and war, this modern landscape scarred still with reminders of France's violent past. The A26, being built in the book, runs through or past many of the great battlefields of France and close to those of Belgium – Arras, the Somme, Ypres – and Garnier plays darkly with the conjunction of the digging of the road and the history of its bloody surroundings.

To say I enjoyed this would be a total misuse of the word. It is too dark, too upsetting, to enjoy. But it is powerful and gut-wrenching, with Garnier's compelling writing enhanced by an excellent translation from Melanie Florence. I may have made it sound more political than it is, though that's how it struck me. But it works too on the level of being an extremely dark thriller, leading up to an ending that shocked me and left me feeling completely undecided as to the morality of the tale. Despite the awfulness of their actions, there was some part of me that empathised with each of the dreadful siblings, and that was the most unsettling aspect of all. As entertainment, I enjoyed Garnier's 'Boxes' more, but for me this one is the more powerful and meaningful, and therefore better, of the two. 4½ stars for me, so rounded up.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Gallic Books.
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on 17 September 2016
This had sat on my kindle for quite a while before I read it. I think I kept putting it off because I knew it was a dark story and I thought I needed to be in the mood.

It isn’t just that the A26 is about murder, I read plenty of those, but it is oppressive. Bernard and Yolande’s house (though it’s more Yolande’s as she never leaves it) is stuck in the past and is full of memories. It is – quite literally – drowning in them because Yolande is a hoarder. She is also stuck in the past, reading the same magazines from before the war again and again so she can return to a time when she was happier, before she was assaulted or attacked in some way which is never made completely clear.

Bernard, because of his love of his sister spends his life in limbo. He is her lifeline, going out to work and buying food before returning home to Yolande’s strange moods and rituals. The many things he wanted for himself, including love, have passed him by. And now he has found out he is terminally ill. Life is unfair. It doesn’t seem right that his is being taken away when it has amounted to so little and others should live. Which is why he decides to kill the young girl he picks up hitch hiking. She is only the first.

The lack of emotion he shows when killing, and in the rest of his life, is chilling. Pascal Garnier’s style (and the translation of it) perfectly reflects this. It is cold itself, sparse, with not a word spared. His portrayals of Yolande and Bernard are unforgiving, though it seems there may have once been much to forgive for Yolande, as they are laid bare with all their negative characteristics and behaviours. There is nothing to love in them. Yet they are compelling, a portrait of mental illness and despair. Like I said, very dark.

For all that, it is also a readable book. I found the pages turning quickly and myself completely absorbed. I liked it a lot and would definitely recommend it.

Note: I received a copy of this book from net galley in return for a fair and honest review. All thought, feelings and opinions are my own.
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on 26 October 2015
This is the first book by Pascal Garnier that I have read, but it certainly won’t be the last. I’m relatively new to French crime fiction, the only other works I’ve read having been the excellent Bed of Nails by Antonin Varenne and the equally compelling Carnage by Maxime Chatham.

What these three books share is a kind of quirkiness that I’m starting to associate with Francophone fiction, a surrealism that is quite unlike anything I’ve encountered elsewhere. In Pascal Garnier’s A26 this revolves around the lives of Yolande and her brother Bernard, a distinctly odd set of siblings who live together. Yolande is a hermit, she never ventures from the confines of their shabby and cluttered abode, who relies on her brother for her every need. Bernard on the other hand has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease (details are scarce, but I suspect it’s cancer), feels his life has been wasted, and starts to get some very dark urges as a result. The A26 of the title is a new motorway being built, a none-too-subtle manifestation of the modern world threatening to encroach on their lives.

This book tries to tackle a number of themes in its slim 112 pages, not least issues France has never really resolved from the Second World War. First and foremost it tackles the issue of those who collaborated with the Germans, those who persecuted them after the war and the hypocrisy of many who slung mud. Related issues the book raises are repentance, compassion and ostracism; the treatment of the mentally ill and those we deem outsiders; the onward march of progress. Some of these themes are deftly handled, particularly the residue of France’s shaming of those it deemed to have collaborated, the humiliations foisted upon young women who had relationships with German soldiers, a stigma which lasted long after the visible tarring and feathering. With other issues the author is clumsier, the building of the A26 motorway as a personification of progress I found a particularly clunky plot device.

That all said, this is a short and compelling read. It’s a great example of French crime fiction at it’s best, a region and tradition which I consider richer than the Scandi-Crime that routinely tops the UK’s bestseller lists. If you want to read something different than endlessly frozen landscapes, this book is as good a place to start.

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars
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Pascal Garnier writes about the underbelly of humanity. In The A26 we meet Bernard, a former worker on the railway in a provincial French town. Bernard is dying, he’s known for a while but the time is getting closer;

Deep-down, these last months, it was hope which had made him suffer the most. ‘Bernard Bonnet, your appeal has been refused’ He felt liberated and had nothing more to lose.’

And what does a man do when he has nothing to lose? Well Bernard decides to do something that I suspect he’s been longing to do all of his life.

But this story isn’t just about Bernard, it’s also about his older sister Yolande who as I am finding, is exactly the sort of character that belongs in a Garnier novel. Yolande has been confined to her house since the end of World War II surrounded by rubbish

‘Through the closed shutters, shafts of light came in from the street, illuminating the chaos cluttering the dining room. A network of narrow passages tunnelled through the heaped-up jumble of furniture, books, clothing, all kinds of things, made it possible to get from one room to another provided you walked like an Egyptian,’

Yolande watches the world go by through a hole made specially in the shutter, the only place in the whole house that it was possible to see out.

In the A26 we get a glimpse of this strange world the siblings inhabit, unsure of what caused Yolande to retreat totally from the world, often confused and still thinking she’s living in war-time but unsure exactly why she insists on this solitude. You can’t help but wonder what will become of Yolande when Bernard dies and she is left to cope – the answer isn’t a pretty one!

But while Bernard is alive he is also living a secret life but out in the open air, his wants and needs submitted to as he finds himself drawn back to the railway where he spent so much of his life. All of this makes for a very dark book indeed as the lives of the siblings are revealed, but unlike the previous Garnier book I read, Boxes, the darkness finds no relief in a witty turn of phrase. I found this book to be unrelentingly bleak and disturbing and felt that the series of events which were recounted were designed to shock and disgust the reader, although I was pleased when the author provided an insight into the background which led up to the eventual unravelling of Bernard. As with Boxes this book has been superbly translated by Melanie Florence.

I’d like to thank Gallic Books for allowing me to read a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion
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on 25 March 2013
Gulped this down, for the almost poetic descriptive writing as much as the deeply disturbing journey into the psyche of the central character. Inspired me to read more by the same author, but two books were enough for the moment.
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Pascal Garnier’s short, spare novel packs a powerful punch. It’s grim, bleak and pretty horrific in places. It’s also quite hypnotic and immensely readable. It features a dysfunctional pair of siblings, Yolande and Bernard, living in a small French town. Yolande, we discover, has been traumatised by what happened to her during WWII and hasn’t left the house since 1945. Bernard has held down a job but a terminal illness now threatens this and sends him on a murderous spree. Atmospheric and moving in spite of its gruesomeness, this is a haunting and deeply uncomfortable read, but a very enjoyable one nonetheless.
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on 20 May 2015
I enjoyed this even more than "How's the Pain?" – I think it is even more ambitious and more entertaining, tackling big themes (progress, trauma, boredom, illness, unrequited love) in an incredibly distilled form. The characters and relationships are extremely well rounded for such a little book, and it builds to a fantastic climax. If you can read it one sitting, then I think so much the better. Melanie Florence's translation is outstanding – on top of all the above, the book is beautifully written, which is due to her skill and precision.

Thoroughly recommend this.
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