Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fred Vargas

A while ago, I posted a request for good books I might try reading. I've since made a start on the suggestions, starting with  Tony Zimnoch's recommendation: Fred Vargas' crime fiction. I've been pretty well absorbed in it ever since. Whatever I've been doing, I've been wondering how I can squeeze in a half hour of Vargas-reading. I've gone from bookless to booked-out.

What's she like? George Simenon meets Sherlock, perhaps. Romans policiers with a dash of the strange. So far I've managed to read The Chalk Circle Man and An Uncertain Place. In the first, an odd, elusive character starts drawing chalk circles on the pavements of Paris around pieces of litter: Commissaire Adamsberg (Vargas' detective) is the first to suspect something sinister is afoot. It left me with a taste for these books and the second certainly gave me something to get my teeth into: it bases its fictional world on the historical ("true" would be a slightly confusing word to use in this context) 300-year-old vampire stories of Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole. It's strictly a detective rather than  a horror story as such, but Vargas can certainly turn on the gothic when she needs to:

The smell was ghastly, the scene was appalling, and even Adamsberg stiffened, standing back a little behind his English colleague. From the ancient shoes, with their cracked leather and trailing laces, projected decomposed ankles, showing dark flesh and white shinbones which had been cleanly chopped off. The only thing that didn't match Clyde-Fox's account was that the feet were not trying to get into the cemetery. They were just there, on the pavement, terrible and provocative, sitting inside their shoes at the historic gateway to Highgate Cemetery.                 Fred Vargas, An Uncertain Place

Funnily enough, I used to live near Highgate Cemetery and work in the very same road (it was just a short walk from there to Karl Marx' grave). It's the perfect horror-film set and it comes as no surprise that vampire stories have grown up around the place, no doubt providing Vargas with more grist to her fictional mill. It's not the very occasional grisly bit that keeps you reading (like the above, which I couldn't resist quoting) but the humanity of the books and the realism of the characters. The Weaver of Grass is reading them too: I'm just going round, now, to swap An Uncertain Place for The Three Evangelists. I can't wait to get down to reading it: otherwise this post might have gone on a little longer.


Rachel Fenton said...

This is perfect research for a novel I'm reworking currently. Thanks. It sounds deliciously brain tickling in a grizzly odd way. :)

The Weaver of Grass said...

I have just started An Uncertain Place - yes, I am fascinated by them too - so well written particularly as they are translated from the French; translations sometimes make things less readable (to me at any rate) - thanks for introducing me to them.

tony said...

I'm glad you enjoy! Yes, there is a particular humanity & humor to Fred's writing that I find strangely comforting.
She does take outrageous liberties with plotting, but thats just part of her quirky charm.
The humor is wonderful, but I cant help thinking they would be even better if read in the original French.

Minnie said...

Another Vargas fan, delighted to read all your reactions: she's really in a class of her own, isn't she?
Suspect she might be better in French (haven't tried the English translations). It might also interest you to know that France Télévisions have dramatised a few of the Adamsberg series.Notoriously difficult to do with a well-loved, niche author, but they've done a great job (superb script, stellar cast - incl. Jean-Hugues Anglade, Jacques Spiesser - and excellent direction by Josée Dayan all help).

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments.

RF: Is the research re vampires? I read a lot about them when I was at uni - there was a great library - especially the stories about Vlad the Impaler (possibly mostly war propoganda) and Elizabeth Bathory which had more to do with Bram Stoker than Vargas.

WG: Good book, innit?

tony: thank you so much for introducing me to these. I said I wanted a book or books that were "a life changing discovery" (well, in a small way!) and these certainly are.

Minnie: Wow! These books would make such good films or tv series. Roll on an English (or a subtitled)Vargas series. I'm not sure we've come across each other before. I'll pop over to your blog and take a look...

e said...

These sound interesting...I will have to see if they are available here...There's also an excellent editorial in the Telegraph for August 12 by Peter Oborne regarding the bigger picture in Britain as related to some of the comments attached to my latest post. Thanks for stopping by today.