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.
Depending on her mood, she called it the ‘bellybutton’ or the ‘world’s arsehole.’
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. Apparently there are over sixty books written by Garnier and I will soon be reading one his fans recommend more highly than this one; The Moon in the Dead Eye.