I finished reading The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau in record time. That is not unusual for a crime thriller but Graeme Macrae Burnet is doing something very different from other crime novels. In most mystery packed thrillers you cannot wait to know who the killer or the criminal is. But in Adele, the actual crime takes a back seat. A mysterious case of disappearance has occurred but Burnet frustratingly keeps telling us about Manfred Baumann’s family background.
One thing that struck me was that the events happened so abruptly. They do not even seem like a twist in the tale but more like real life where things you do not expect, happen anyway. There is no pretension, no deliberate conjuring of intrigue to keep readers at the edge of their seats. The writing may even seem dull at times. What pushed me on is more like an obtuse curiosity to know how it ends for Baumann rather than for Adele. Some of the shocking incidents seemed more accidental than planned from the protagonist’s as well as the author’s perspective. Events proceed almost like an absurdist drama where many things happen but nothing leads anywhere (like the complications that Manfred invents in his head). Alternatively like Godot, nothing really happens (like the final culmination). Notably, Raymond Brunet’s first work is an absurdist drama. Manfred is a protagonist of an absurd drama demonstrating the futility of existence.
I was told that the book is a psychological thriller. Most psycho thrillers I’ve read involves a psychotic criminal or a psychologically driven motive. But Adele Bedeau is thought-provoking because the psychological aspect is so personal. The book is ultimately the outcome of extreme paranoia of an anti-social person of the likes of Meursault. Burnet has captured the idiosyncrasy and struggle of a man who had resigned himself to a life of loneliness. He craves the company of a warm and loving person, he dreams of a fairy-tale love story but his self-consciousness and low self-esteem prevent him from forming any kind of relationship. He can only feel superior in the presence of his meek assistant at his workplace. The existentialism and social awkwardness are very relatable even though the protagonists are not particularly endearing and do not capture the reader’s pity.
There is a meta-narrative running parallel to the plotline where the past and the present merge. Two characters have their points of view although one of them has almost nothing to contribute to the main focus of the novel. The unreliable narration brings out the complexity of human mind and the impossibility of truly knowing oneself. The style of representation makes one ponder whether in a literary work the resolution is more important or the leading up to it is. The book is not fast-paced but forces you to dwell on the characters and decipher their minds.
This focus on character rather than plot demarcates the book from conventional crime fiction. The figure of the out-of-place crime investigator is too common in the literature of espionage. It is Manfred who held the more fascination for me. To me, he is a tragic hero and Adele comes for him as the personification of Karma to force him to serve penance for his unpunished sins much like the Furies pursuing Orestes.
The book stayed with me long after I turned the last page. It made me pause, it made me think, and it made me write a 600-words review. I greatly look forward to reading His Bloody Project and The Accident on the A35.
About the author:
Srabani Bhattacharya is pursuing her Master’s Degree in English from Jadavpur University. She loves cats and can be found petting them wherever she finds one, but mostly in the narrow lanes of North Kolkata. She is interested in mythology, mysticism, Pink Floyd and the subtle art of everyday life.
Book Review by Riddhi Maitra.
Bee Books’ newest offering, the English translation of Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s Goynar Baksho is aptly titled The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die. It is an encomium to the spirit of women. The tale spans across three generations and weaves together stories of survival and grit. But nowhere one finds the gloominess of day-to-day battles overshadowing the effervescence of the women. They find ways to exert their authority, at times even surpassing the men of the family, who seem merely to loaf about. The novel begins with Somlata and as fate would have it, it is up to her to restore the fast declining fortunes of her husband’s family. Her husband, Chakor Mitra Chowdhury, is caught up like the other male members of the family, in that mouldy maze of feudal pride which makes him abhor work and earn a living. Somlata, encouraged by a rare sorority between her and her mother-in-law, is quick enough to realise that the family ship needs an able hand.And so begins a lively chapter in Somlata’s life where one can see her using every trick in the book to bring her husband out of the inertia that spelled doom for many an aristocratic household. She becomes the agent of change for people around her.
For readers Somlata’s experience is made credible by the sparkling prose of Arunava Sinha. The quick plot movements in the original Bengali rendition could be seen to find adept transformation through Sinha’s able handling of the various shades of Bengali life and culture. Hence, the narrative never loses its tautness. Neither the storyis allowed to meander into nooks and crannies where the uninitiated reader may find it difficult to comprehend the subtleties of an antiquated lifestyle and its cloistered desires. The translator admirably conquers this feat, and it is nowhere more apparent than in the portrayal of Roshomoyee, the aunt of the title. Refusing to let go of her hoard of jewellery even after her death, this mordant spirit, took togetting her revenge against a world that denied her all the happiness of youth. Sinha’s evocation of Roshomoyee in all its anarchic mischievousness only puts in sharp relief the unhappiness that lies within a barren heart. This sombre realisation finds its true recipient in Boshon, Somlata’s daughter, and according to many Roshomoyee’s incarnation. Boshon is a feisty soul, and believes that the world could survive without men. It seems, as if, in her has been chiselled into shape, a clarity of purpose which the previous generations of women were found lacking. We come to realise this, albeit with a tinge of fear, when she provokes the widow Sreemoyee to set her in-laws’ house on fire and be free.
The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a romance, and to a comparable degree it is a travel into history as well. The theme binding the two is a search for freedom.
This BEE Books production steals the show.