I chose this book principally because this author came to my attention through Guy Savage’s fascinating blog where he has reviewed a number of this author’s books. As they sounded dark and different I was delighted when Boxes appeared on NetGalley.
From what I’ve gathered Pascal Garnier’s book Boxes was published posthumously following his death in 2010, also little birds have indicated that this probably isn’t the best example of his work, but I found plenty to enjoy, if enjoy is indeed the right word for such a grim and gloomy book.
Brice is moving to the country from the apartment he shared with his wife Emma in Lyon to the countryside, hence the title, all their lives are packed into labelled boxes ready for the removal men to arrive:
Perhaps it was an occupational hazard, but they were all reminiscent of a piece of furniture: the one called Jean-Jean, a Louis-Phillippe chest of drawers; Ludo, a Normandy wardrobe; and the tall, shifty looking one affectionately known as The Eel, a grandfather clock. This outfit of rascals with bulging muscles and smiles baring wolf-like teeth made short work of surveying the flat.
But despite the efficient way his life is hauled from Lyon to a small village there is something missing, Emma. At first Brice makes a stab at unpacking his boxes but not for long, he wants it to be right for Emma, his younger wife, a woman he isn’t entirely sure he deserves.
But women’s hearts are unfathomable and full of oddities as the bottom of their handbags.
And then we learn that she isn’t just away, she’s missing presumed dead in a terrorist attack in Egypt, while working as a journalist. Brice knows no-one in the small village although he gets adopted by a cat but his isolation from other humans aids his descent into depression, and worse, as he fails to accept the loss of his wife or to carry on with his illustration work for a children’s book. Illustrating Mabel Hirsch’s books about Sabine had been his bread and butter but Brice dislikes Mabel, Sabine and children.
The little brat, whose face he riddled with freckles for sport, was seriously taking over his life. As for her creator, he must have killed her at least a hundred times in the course of troubled dreams. He would throttle her until her big frogspawn eyes burst out of their sockets and then tear off all her jewellery. She could no longer move her poor arthritic fingers, they were so weighed down with gold and diamonds. Strings of pearls disappeared into the soft fleshy folds of her double chin. Old, ugly and nasty with it! Al that emerged from her scar of a mouth, slathered in bloodred honey, were barbed compliments which would themselves around your neck, the better to jab you in the back.
With Emma’s parents concern is spurned and it looks like Brice’s life can’t get any worse he meets Blanche, who is at best a little eccentric and constantly impresses on Brice how much he looks like her father who was also an artists. Let’s just say the story becomes even more weird!
This is a short book, easily read with wonderful language, especially considering that it is a work of translation which evokes many feelings, most of which are, admittedly at the grimmer end of the scale. I am absolutely sure I will be seeking out more of Pascal Garnier’s books as this evoked memories of the dark short stories written by the late Roald Dahl, that I loved in my teens.
I’d like to thank the publishers Gallic Books for my copy of this book in return for this honest review. Boxes was published in English in May 2015.