All justice is just vengeance

They know no justice, only revenge

Crime of the week: "The battue" by Antonin Varenne is a kind of pitch-black western from the French provinces.

The first sentence:

When I was born, R. was still a city.

The book:

If "The Battleship" were an American novel, it would be called "Country Noir". With his seventh novel, the Frenchman Antonin Varenne does not have to hide behind American greats of the genre. “Battues”, as the book is called in the original, “Beaten”, also has something of a Western. Two warring families rule the city in the Limousin region in the French Massif Central, which is only referred to as R.; former farming families who steadily expanded their empire through acquisitions. The Courbiers own the forests, the Messenets own the agricultural area. And in between is Rémi Parrot, the Revierjäger (gamekeeper, we would say in Switzerland), who has been disfigured since an accident in his youth and is practically the lonesome cowboy.

It is a desolate place that has seen better days: “Half of the houses are empty, everything is shabby, the shops in the main street change hands every year, and half of the shops are for sale. The population must be the oldest in Europe, and the young gather to drink in a binge. They don't fight anymore, they hang themselves on the next tree. " There are no foreigners living here, but in the elections, racism achieved “a good national average”. The gypsies who camp in a camp outside the town serve as scapegoats, as do environmental activists on the nearby high plateau. The disappearance of one of the latter sets a dynamic in motion. There are murders, the Courbiers' pulp mill burns down, an illegal nuclear waste dump is discovered, and it turns out that the supposedly hostile families in the nature park area on the plateau are planning a gigantic tourism project together. The fact that Rémi is shot at during the big hunt is certainly not an accident; there are several possible suspects. Perhaps the brother of Michèle Messenet, who according to Rémi is “too beautiful for this place”, but has returned after years and meets again with her old love Rémi.

Varenne tells powerfully, but pleasantly calm. By nesting the chronological sequence, he increases the tension without the need for simple tricks. The archaic story of guilt and atonement is universal, it could take place anywhere. But the anchoring in a realistic regional setting - Varenne lives in the area, which he knows how to describe both sensitively and ruthlessly - gives it the authenticity that makes it really moving. The fact that the relationship between Rémi and Michèle also delivers a heartfelt love story does not harm the novel in any way. The protagonists are multi-layered and do not use any simple clichés. There is not simply good and evil that are clearly differentiated from each other. Rémi Parrot is the good guy, but Commandant Vanberten, a foreigner - "Even if he had lived here for a hundred years, had become an alcoholic and had won the 'Great Potato Eaters Competition' ten times, he would never be considered a local." - and probably the only non-corrupt person in this valley, comes to the conclusion: "Just like your fellow men here, you know no justice, Monsieur Parrot, only revenge."

The rating:

The author: Antonin Varenne, born in Paris in 1973, studied philosophy in Paris. He is said to have worked as a skyscraper climber and carpenter, lived in Iceland, Mexico and the USA. Since 2006 he has published nine books; "Fakirs" ("Fakirs"; Ullstein, 2011) and "The seven lives of Arthur Bowman" ("Trois mille chevaux vapeur"; C. Bertelsmann, 2015) appeared in German before "Die Treibjagd". Varenne lives in the department of Creuse - in the area where "The battue" takes place.

Antonin Varenne: “The battue” (Original: “Battues”, 2015, Editions Ecorce, La Croisille-sur-Briance). Translated from the French by Susanne Röckel. 2017, Penguin-Verlag / Random House, Munich, 302 S., 13.90 Fr.

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