Canicule

caniculefrontcoverJust launched in Paris last month, CANCIULE a savage coming-of-age story through the prism of 1970s terrorism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Israel-Lebanon War… Three friends, each of them orphans, are brought together by fate in a small Baltic seaside town. Bit by bit their friendship turns to betrayal. When one of them commits suicide, the emptiness of their lives is laid bare… In the present, a sudden random act of violence brings two women together in mutual need and self-discovery. As the destinies of its protagonists intertwine, a story unfolds of love and betrayal in a time of failed ideology and moral crisis. By turns cinematic, hard-boiled, sensual, Canicule continues Armand’s exploration of the underside of the human condition.

“Armand’s characters are all caught up in that attempt to retreat from the flow of time. The great histories that are the backdrop to his narrative and the characters’ lives are the looming presences of life that requires we keep track of time, because it is always getting late there, and the urgency of the timetable is felt here as that of a doomsday clock. The tension in the novel is between a kind of vita otiose, understood as an impatient disappearance from life and from history, on the one hand, and epiphanies of death and history and time on the other. It is a tension that for each of the characters in their different ways becomes a process of undoing and dissolution, a threatened negligence from often self-imposed states of suspension.” Richard Marshall, 3:AM Magazine

EXCERPT

The legend of Wolf’s father began during a plane hijacking, in the Autumn of 1977. The botched execution appeared live on network news. Shot in the neck and left on the tarmac to bleed to death, framed in close-up by a cameraman’s telephoto lens. Wolf’s mother, an actress in a TV drama, never recovered from the experience of seeing her husband murdered between commercial breaks. Later she attempted suicide. Wolf was five when it happened, but he still remembered what’d been playing in the background on the imported Vistavision TV set (Hitparade), what his mother had been wearing (a white Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit), and what brand of rat poison (Neudorff).

The three of us – me, Ascher, Wolf – were sitting under the pine trees one May afternoon, watching the tide reddening in the sunset, when a sombre mood crept over us and Wolf, gaze fixed on the horizon, told us about it. His mother had called him into the kitchen. She’d mixed the rat poison into two glasses of milk, drank one herself, then put the other down in front of him and told him to drink it too. He’d tried, but the taste was so bad he couldn’t. His mother became angry. She poured sugar into the glass and ordered him to drink. When he gagged, she got so irritated she snatched the glass from his hand and drank it herself. Then she went to the bathroom, came out a few minutes later with makeup on, started to cry and ran out of the house. The next thing he was at the hospital. Orderlies rushing past. Someone who might’ve been his mother vomiting spasmodically.

Wolf went to live with relatives in Aachen. Later, when his mother returned from the clinic, they sent him back. Somehow she’d botched it too. It didn’t bother the rels that maybe the old girl wasn’t fit for the job. The kid was a burden. Like a pair of fugitives in a 1940s movie, they fled north to an old run-down summer house near the sea.

And that’s how we all came to meet, in the unreality of the long summer of ’83. The year the US embassy in Beirut got bombed. The year of the phoney Strategic Defence Initiative some genius dubbed “Star Wars.” We still made-believe in Superman, kryptonite, fast-breeder nuclear reactors and critical mass. Missile silos and coolingstacks populated the distant exotic landscapes of our imagination. Ronald Reagan and Yuri Andropov danced into the sunset of a world with no future. We cranked up the fat lady’s anthem to the closing credits, till the batteries ran flat. Glasnost was half a lifetime away.

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