I read somewhere about Emmanuel Bove (I’d imagined it was Wikipedia, but he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page) that the only books of his worth reading were My Friends and Armand – that he wasted the rest of his career writing pulp crime fiction. The first of his books I read was My Friends; and it was such a wonderful, charming book, one of my favourite books of last year (or perhaps the year before). I’d picked it up idly in a charity shop and, finding his name suitably foreign but with no idea who he was, I was flicking through it wondering whether to buy it; – and it was only the fact that on the back it said he had been admired by Colette, Beckett and Rilke I became convinced.
This week, though, I’ve been reading Quicksand. – Now, I don’t know whether this fits into the simple division between his worthwhile literary works and his worthless crime fiction. I’m half-inclined to believe there’s a third category to his work: – the three novels he wrote while France was being occupied by the Germans and he was living out in Algeria. Quicksand is the first of these and captures the sense of the French defeat, the resignation, the occasional moment of anger, the all-too-trusting hope in human decency. There is a crime-like – or at least a thriller-like – aspect to it: – a man is trying to escape the Vichy regime; he is caught up in bureaucracy; he doesn’t know who to trust, what to say. But these are more the incidental details within the more serious portrait he is painting of French society… etc. etc.
No, it wasn’t as good as My Friends, but it was good enough – worth reading – and even, dare I say, quite gripping and compelling.
(Oh yes, one thing I misunderstood when I was reading My Friends: – I thought Bove had written it aged 14; rather than that that was the age he determined to become a writer. Now there is something childish about the way My Friends is written, about its outlook on life – and for about half its length (before I learned the truth) I was amazed someone of 14 could have written something so extraordinary).