Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Executioner Weeps - Frederic Dard

I've amassed a reasonable collection of Pushkin's Vertigo series, and as time has gone on the feel of the series has become increasingly eclectic (it's an interesting mix that puts Dard in the same series as Baroness Orczy) but has in my view remained consistently good across the books I've read.

I'm not entirely sure exactly what I want to be reading right now so until that becomes a bit clearer it seems like as good a time as any to get through some novellas and try a few different things. I kind of wish I hadn't started with Dard though. I checked half way through and see that this was originally published in 1956 so it would have been perfect for Simon and Kaggsy's next book club.

I also found myself slightly impatient with the very male point of view in 'The Executioner Weeps', and a claustrophobic atmosphere which might otherwise have created an appealing tension felt a bit close to home in the middle of a lockdown. The book opens with an artist (Daniel) driving back from Barcelona to his lodgings along the coast. He hits a young woman when she steps in front of his car, the collision smashes her violin case and leaves her alive but unconscious.

Daniel decides to take her back to the hostel he's staying in rather than to Barcelona, and once back the owner is unwilling to call the police (this is after all Franco's Spain) feeling that the morning will be more than soon enough. The girl turns out to be physically fine but her memory has gone. She has no papers, nothing but the clothes she's wearing, but as she instinctively answers in accentless French, Daniel recognises her as a country woman.

She is also very beautiful, and he assumes kind, which is all he thinks is necessary in a woman. He reports her to the relevant authorities, but as he seems happy to pay her way nobody is very interested and they spend an idyllic couple of weeks falling in love, the only sense of disquiet coming from Daniel's attempts to paint Marianne (flashes keep coming back) where he picks up a sly look on the canvas that he's blind to in the woman.

Eventually it becomes clear that this idyll can't continue indefinitely though and Daniel try's to find out a bit more about this woman whilst trying to get her some papers. He's not anxious for Marianne to remember more about her own past though because he's found his perfect blank canvas and perfect woman. He can project whatever he wants on to her, and in turn she makes him a new man too. It makes what he eventually discovers impossibly hard for him to reconcile with the image he's created and everything spirals quickly out of control.

I've enjoyed Dard's difficult characters in the past, but whilst I can admire what he's done here there's something quite troubling about it. Marianne is such a blank that I found it hard to follow Daniel's continued obsession with her as the book ends. That his obsession does continue suggests that his infatuation is based entirely on how her blankness allows him to see himself. It's bleak. It was also compelling, and generally I'd recommend picking up any of the Dard's in this series even if this wasn't the ideal moment for me to read this one.

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