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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Irène

by
Pierre Lemaitre


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Irène



Title: Irène
Author: Pierre Lemaitre
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 445 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Irène - US
Irène - UK
Irène - Canada
Travail soigné - Canada
Irène - India
Travail soigné - France
Irène - Italia
  • French title: Travail soigné
  • Translated by Frank Wynne
  • The first in the Commandant Verhœven series

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Our Assessment:

B- : fun idea, slapdash execution

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 21/3/2014 Laura Wilson
The NY Times . 26/12/2014 William Grimes
Sydney Morning Herald . 17/10/2014 Anna Creer
The Washington Post B+ 14/12/2014 Patrick Anderson


  From the Reviews:
  • "Contrived, yes, but thrilling enough to make up for that, with a page-turning race to a grand-slam finish." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Mr. Lemaitre fires away in a prose style that’s like a flurry of short jabs to the solar plexus. His translator, Frank Wynne, skillfully renders the tough-guy slang, the police jargon and the irrepressible zip of a narrative that unfolds, despite the copious gore, precisely and methodically. It’s a metronome set at allegro furioso. The novel’s weakness lies in its characters, starting at the top. (...) Mr. Lemaitre pulls some unexpected strings, upending expectations with a flourish that readers will find either pure genius or too clever by half -- or one and a half." - William Grimes, The New York Times

  • "Lemaitre's choices mean Irene is full of horror and graphic brutality, verging on torture porn. It is confronting, offensive and sickening and if you've read Alex, you already know the ending. There is little "pleasure" in reading Irene." - Anna Creer, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "Once I accepted the novel’s portrayals of violence, I found little to fault in Irene. It’s too long, but that’s the price we pay for those quirky characterizations. More important, as the story progresses, the suspense becomes electric. (...) The novel’s closing chapters are as suspenseful and ultimately as shocking as the climax of any thriller I can recall" - Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Irène is the first in Pierre Lemaitre's series featuring the diminutive Commandant Verhœven, but, alas, the second published in English translation; the sequel, Alex, was published in the US/UK first -- and readers familiar with Alex (surely many of those who are tempted to pick up this volume) will unfortunately be all too well aware of what happened to Irène (Verhœven's very pregnant wife), as that is then discussed in some detail in that sequel. Not wanting to spoil it for uninitiated readers: let's say ... a lot happened to Irène (let's also say: don't read Alex, or reviews of it, so that the outcome of Irène (and Irène) remain a surprise). But, inevitably, knowing exactly what's coming (at least as far as poor Irène goes), readers of Alex will find at least this significant part of Irène ... anticlimactic. Nevertheless, the publishers have gone all-in with the Irène-angle, pushing the character (and her fate) leadingly to the fore by putting her name on the cover, even to readers who haven't picked up Alex ..... (The French title didn't point readers in this direction, surely making for a more startling and effective read.)
       [One would hope that US/UK publishers learn a lesson here, but it's doubtful; indifferent to most any sort of literary integrity and concerned just with making the fastest buck they're just as sure to continue publishing series in translation out of sequence as always. But please do curse them out, and write letters of protest.]

       Irène introduces Commandant Camille Verhœven, all four-foot-eleven of him, his diminutive stature blamed on his now deceased painter-mother's careless excesses. He's forty, and ever since the understanding Irène came into his life a few years ago he seems to have found domestic happiness; now that they're expecting their first child -- she's well into her last trimester -- they couple is all set for a happy future.
       Of course, Camille is Commandant in the brigade criminelle -- a branch of the police which: "combines elements of the American homicide division and major crimes unit", the Glossary helpfully clarifies -- and so professionally he has to deal with some pretty ugly stuff. And now, in April, 2003, he has to face some really ugly stuff: "It's like nothing I've ever seen in my life ...", his assistant Louis babbles on the phone when he calls Camille to the scene of the latest double-murder.
       The incredibly carefully staged scene would seem to offer many clues -- "It's like everything is right here in plain sight ...;", but it doesn't really. The savage butchery offers some hope -- "It corresponded to the classic profile of a psychopath, which was a bonus for the investigation" -- but the murderer -- apparently an individual -- seems to have been meticulous in his preparations and careful as to what he left behind, little of which appears helpful in trying to track him down. Unsettling, too: the message left in blood on a wall: 'I AM BACK'.
       Indeed, soon enough another crime from a year and half earlier, looks like it could be attributed to the same savage killer. And then the crimes begin to pile up.
       The French police apparently don't read much gory fiction, so it takes a while for them to realize that the double-murder scene is identical to one described in the notorious Bret Easton Ellis-novel, American Psycho. And though it takes them a while to be convinced, it's soon clear that the murderer has been and is continuing to restage murders from famous works of crime-fiction: James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, William McIlvanney's Laidlaw, and Sjöwall/Wahlöö's Roseanna, among others. They enlist the help of some better-versed in mystery writing -- an academic, a bookstore-owner -- but the murderer, soon nicknamed 'the Novelist' by the press seems a step ahead of them.
       If not quite a step ahead, the press -- and specifically one journalist, who keeps badgering Camille -- seem all too much in the loop as far as every little detail in the investigation is going, causing Camille further headaches, including from those he has to answer to.
       Camille, who leads his investigations rather independently (to the annoyance of some, in a French judicial system that is meant to be much more collaborative and structured, helpfully explained in a Translator's Note), takes a variety of steps -- and one of them pays off in drawing out the murderer, as he starts writing letters to Camille, explaining himself -- yet another maddening clue leading nowhere.
       Eventually, of course, it comes down to a race against time -- a desperate one, as it's clear:

He's moved on to the next novel. The question is, which one ?
       And things just get more desperate as they figure that out.
       This is a clever premise for a novel, and Lemaitre has some clever twists up his sleeves, too -- including the major one, which is a fine turn of events indeed. Unfortunately, Lemaitre is no craftsman, and he makes rather a mess of most of this. He's figured out a great framework for his novel, but he's not very good at the detail-work, or the writing. Yes, Irène zips along -- but often too fast for its own good. The brutality of the re-enacted crimes -- women horribly tortured and abused -- comes to feels almost entirely gratuitous, good for a reaction but little else. And even the literary tributes feel rather weak -- a nice idea, by a fan, but more than he can handle.
       The summary of this novel, boiled down to its basics, sounds fantastic; the novel Lemaitre has made out of it is less so. Yes, it's reasonably exciting, and there's enough to keep the reader interested (if s/he's not too put off by the gore), and all the basics -- the idea(s) behind the murders, the false trails, the great big twist -- are there. Lemaitre just can't quite pull it all off.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 January 2015

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Links:

Irène: Reviews: Other books by Pierre Lemaitre under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pierre Lemaitre was born in 1951.

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© 2015-2016 the complete review

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