I was thrilled to see Pierre Lemaitre had written another standalone novel having vowed to read all of his back catalogue after being wowed by Blood Wedding, needless to say, that hasn’t come to fruition… yet, although all his books are on the wishlist after being even more wowed by Three Days and a Life.
The feel of this book is very different to Blood Wedding, for starters the main protagonist is a child, just twelve years old, and we go back to 1999 to discover the events that led up to the day Antoine accidentally kills his six-year-old neighbour, Rémi. A shocking event, in itself, made no less so by the brutal description of Rémi ’s pet dog which precedes the cold days just before Christmas. The scene is set beautifully in the small town of Beauval in France where Antoine lives with his mother. His father decamped to Germany and consequently he has a distant relationship with him. The crux of the story is that Antoine hides Rémi’s body and returns home to his loving mother and hides as much as possible from reality. He has a child’s view of the world, realistically depicted, and alternately buries his head in the sand and suffers the awful anxiety about his crime being discovered.
Pierre Lemaitre absolutely nails the small town view of the wider world. The people of Beauval collectively hope that Rémi was taken by someone out-of-town, it being far too awful to think that the act was one of their own. Although the pace is slower than some crime thrillers, the tension felt is built very quickly to fever-pitch with this reader see-sawing in hoping that poor Rémi’s mother would find out the truth about what happened and equally hoping that Antoine’s mother would be spared the self-same truth, this emotional push and pull is very hard to pull off, particularly when we have a child who is not displaying much in the way of guilt, although his the fear of discovery is acute.
After following the inhabitants of Beauval through the days following the death of Rémi we next meet Antoine twelve years later and see how the man views that day in hindsight. An interesting concept and one that again the author nailed. Where some of Antoine’s emotions and actions mirrored those he had aged just twelve, the author hadn’t just given the same voice and adult body we see something more of Antoine, not all of it particularly nice. In fact, I felt less sympathetic to him in this part than I had the younger version.
Three Days and a Life ends with a twist that has played on a loop inside my mind since I finished the book. I’m not one to usually draw on this aspect of a book in my review but I have this time because the twist doesn’t change anything read before but adds a whole other layer that made me want to pick the book straight up and start at the beginning again.
If you fancy some French Noir I offer up a fulsome recommendation for Three Days and a Life. Even more so because this book has been exceptionally well translated by Frank Wynne, so much so that I forgot at times that this wasn’t originally written in English allowing the nuance of the tale coming across as expertly as I’m sure it was in its native language.
I’d like to thank the publishers Quercus who allowed me to read Three Days and a Life which was published on 7 November 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them, Pierre Lemaitre for the fantastic storytelling and Frank Wynne who brilliantly translated this book into English.