Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Have you ever heard of Fred Vargas? She's French and she writes crime fiction 'for big people' (as Eoin Colfer would put it). She's been translated into a fair few languages, including English, so you have no excuse not to go and have a look at her stuff as soon as you're finished reading this post.
Her books are truly quite fab: they're sophisticated but extremely readable, they're fun and they're not afraid to, sometimes, border on the absurd. The plots are intricate and intriguing, and the resolutions usually clever and unexpected.
But, to me, the most important aspect of her writing is the immense fondness and respect I sense Vargas has for her characters. I'm thinking in particular of the trio who live in the Disgrace (a rotten dump of a house) and make regular appearances in the novels. These three young men are historians and they share the Disgrace (pun probably intended) with a fourth, older man. On seeing his younger housemates standing each in the arch of a Gothic window, he coins them 'The Three Evangelists' (which is the title of one of the books in English).
And here's where respect comes into it: the third-person narrative adopts this denomination, with a hint of humour, but never a drop of mockery. From this point on, the members of the trio are equally referred to as Lucien or Saint Luc, Matthias or Saint Matthieu, Marc or Saint Marc. Similarly, all three historians have their own way of speaking, which more often than not reflects their areas of expertise. Again, the narrative picks up on this, describing a meal in medieval terms or relating the friends' meetings as if they were war councils. And you can imagine what a shopping trip by a Prehistorian can sound like...
This trick gives the books a very special flavour and as a result they feel quite organic. And seeing the writer so fond of her characters and so proud of them too, the reader can't help but feel in a similar way.
In other words, I'm very impressed and possibly a tiny bit jealous!  

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