The great swindle by Pierre Lemaitre

The Great Swindle

The great swindle by Pierre Lemaitre

French fiction

Original title – Au revoir là-haut

Translator – Frank wynne

I am carrying on my journey through books from last year that may make the MBIP2016 and next up is The Prix Goncourt historic novel from Pierre Lemaitre. and a book from one of my favourite translators Frank Wynne  He is better known for his Crime Novels Alex and Irene, I reviewed Irene and enjoyed it , but I was looking forward to this given it’s post world war one setting and the fact it won the Prix goncourt.

This later position was one espoused by Lieutenant d’aulnay-Pradelle. When talking of him, everyone dropped the first name the nobility particle, the “Aulnay” and the hyphen, referring to him simply as “Pradelle” since they knew very well how much this riled him, They could afford to do so, since Pradelle made it a point of honour never to express personal aimus.

The three of them at the start of the book in the same army unit and they have little respect for Pradelle the officer.

The book follows three French soldiers as they start to make their way post war in war-torn France. Now these three are trying to get their own back for the horrors of the war by running a couple of clever confidence tricks. The first two Albert and Edouard met just as the war is about to end in an incident that leaves one of them disfigured and the other with what is know called post traumatic stress disorder after the events that brought the two of them together out of the army they head to Paris and find the streets aren’t paved with gold , but find a clever way to make some money by conning French towns and villages as they go round selling fake war memorials . Then there is Lieutenant Henry D’Aulnay Pradelle is trying to get the hand of a wealthy heiress, but has to find a way to make money so gets a job burying the dead he was the man who sent the first two out on the job that caused them to end up the way they did on a fruitless mission, he is a real cad.What we see is how each man falls down their respective holes post war.

It was these workshops that had produced the magnificent sample coffin that had been sent to the war graves commission, a superb oak casket worth every centime of its sixty francs. Now that it had served its purpose in persuading the adjudicating committee, they could move on to more serious matters, to the coffins that would actually be delivered.

Pradelle sends a great coffin to bury the dead to the graves commission then actually makes some substandard ones in the place.

I loved this it was a slow burner to start as the war burns out,  as he starts to place the characters in their places for what is to follow post war  but as the book gets on the pace picks up some what as we see the three men each start to run their swindles. I think it is a shame the title was changed from Goodbye there , which as Lemaitre explains were the last words of Jean Blanchard a man shot in 1921 after he had done something similar to the title characters. For me one reason is to link this in the English mind to the great pieces of  lost generation literature The great swindle maybe brings to mind the Great Gatsby and as Gatsby in the book in one line of thought is meant to be a swindler that made his money in a very dark way it may be a connection not sure that is just my idea. in the afterword Lemaitre gives a list of world war one books that inspired him Barbusse and Jules Romains (I have Romains Verdun in my TBR pile ). He also notes a number of 19th century French realist writers for inspiring the style of writing in the book, I can see Pradelle is one character that could come from Dickens as Dickens was inspired by a number of the writers on Lemaitre list. The great swindle is a dark look at the underbelly of the post war lost generation and what happens when the dreams of peace don’t go as planned.


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MarinaSofia
    Feb 18, 2016 @ 10:39:48

    I read this one in French and really enjoyed it, although when it won the Prix Goncourt there were some voices who said it was not literary enough, too ‘soap opera-like’, as if Prix Goncourt winners have to forsake all plot. It certainly made me aware of WW1 and its impact in France and I then went on to read some other books on the subject, including Daeninckx’s Le Der des Ders and Gatalica’s The Great War (which is Serbian), and Japrisot ‘A Very Long Engagement’.


  2. JacquiWine
    Feb 18, 2016 @ 12:50:17

    Nice review, Stu. This sounds more interesting than Lemaitre’s crime novels, which I haven’t read despite the positive reviews. Did you prefer this one to Irene in the end?


  3. A Little Blog of Books
    Feb 18, 2016 @ 13:25:38

    Really glad you enjoyed this too and hope it’s on the MBIP longlist. I wonder why they didn’t choose a more direct translation of the original title.


  4. Romy Paris
    Feb 18, 2016 @ 18:40:41

    I have trouble too with translated titles. Modiano’s Missing Persons was originally, in French, Rue des Boutiques Obscures which reflected the importance of the Roman ghetto to the story since Via delle Botteghe Oscure is one of the ghetto boundaries. Modiano refers to this street in others of his works.

    And add this as another shout out for the excellent works of Gatalica and Daeninckxs mentioned above.


  5. Lisa Hill
    Feb 18, 2016 @ 22:27:44

    Thanks, Stu, I was waiting for this review, I’m all set to buy it now:)


  6. Pat
    Feb 19, 2016 @ 19:15:16

    Hi, I too read this last year (well part read and then audio booked), I had trouble getting past some of the slower moments in the reading which presented no problems in the audio (well I can’t go anywhere whilst I’m driving). A very interesting book, I guess our write ups are not so very different. So how well do you think it will do in the MBIP2016 now that you’ve read it?


  7. 1streading
    Feb 20, 2016 @ 11:02:46

    I’ve enjoyed his crime novels, so I’ll be pleased if this is on the list as it will give me an excuse to read it!


  8. Trackback: Man booker international prize prediction post 2016 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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February 2016


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