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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Gravediggers' Bread

Frédéric Dard

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To purchase The Gravediggers' Bread

Title: The Gravediggers' Bread
Author: Frédéric Dard
Genre: Novel
Written: 1956 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 157 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Gravediggers' Bread - US
The Gravediggers' Bread - UK
The Gravediggers' Bread - Canada
Le pain de fossoyeurs - Canada
The Gravediggers' Bread - India
Le pain de fossoyeurs - France
Arsen und rote Rosen - Deutschland
  • French title: Le pain de fossoyeurs
  • Translated by Melanie Florence

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Our Assessment:

B+ : quick and simple, cuts to the heart

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Mail . 23/8/2018 Barry Turner

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dard is one of those writers whose moments of tension are so acute as to make the reader almost shout out for the story to reach its climax. This tale of love and hate will leave you gasping." - Barry Turner, Daily Mail

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:

       The Gravediggers' Bread is a quick, three-act story. It is narrated by Blaise Delange, down on his luck after spending two years abroad in a job that never turned into anything; he returned to France: "out of money and out of work", and it's to apply for a salesman job that he's ventured into the provinces. Of course, the position is filled by the time he gets there. It's the story of his life, as he has it -- and that attitude is part of his problem, as a friend complains:

You'll never get anywhere with an attitude like that, Blaise ! You've got a loser's mentality. You delight in renunciation ... The more life kicks you in the backside, the happier you are. A masochist, that's what you are.
       Finishing up in town, Blaise finds a wallet dropped by an attractive woman; the eight thousand francs in it would be a godsend -- but something compels him to return it, so he gets directions to her home and heads there. She is Germaine Castain, and she's married to the local undertaker, Achille -- who happens to be looking for someone to help out at work. It wasn't what Blaise had in mind, but a job is a job, and the slightest bit of encouragement from Germaine is enough to convince him to give it a try.
       Blaise is a good salesman; he's also blunt and direct. He easily impresses Achille, but he's not entirely comfortable with his new situation. But he is intrigued by the Castains -- attracted to Germaine, and curious what the twenty-eight-year-old is doing married to a fifty-two-year-old undertaker:
This strange couple concealed a mystery, and I was eager to find it out.
       It turns out when she was younger Germaine had had a lover, and that Achille married her to more or less save her from disgrace; he's fairly well off, too, so she does get something out of it. But now the former lover has reappeared, and Germaine is still devoted to him .....
       Blaise gets caught up in this from the beginning, from when he first met Achille and sensed he should cover for Germaine, as he did. She takes him into her confidence -- and he's willing to help her out. Not that he's thrilled to find not one but two men in his way, as far as this woman he's got this strong crush on goes.
       Blaise is not only blunt and direct, he's also impulsive. Finding himself alone with Germaine's lover at one point, and with Achille at another, he acts -- opportunistically, and rashly, one might say, but he can't help himself. The first time, the harm isn't immediately obvious -- but it comes. The second, Blaise knows exactly what he's done -- but has good reason to believe no one else will ever find out.
       Achille takes out his anger on Germaine, so it's no wonder she seeks release in the arms of a lover; Blaise does his best to improve her situation, but as long as he's the odd man out there's only so much he can do. When the situation changes, it looks like Blaise can finally enjoy a happiness that has so long eluded him -- only for him to learn, always too late, that he didn't know quite enough about some of what was happening around him. He finds himself pushed evermore into a corner -- even as it's a corner that's largely of his own (repeatedly inadvertent) making. Every reasonable step he takes just comes back to bite him: one step forward, two steps back -- with the abyss lurking in the background ..... Escaping it seems within reach, again and again. And yet .....
       Try as he might -- and he gives the impression of being a strong, determined man -- Blaise turns out to be one of life's losers. He's also a romantic -- making for a strange kind of mix in this character, though it's something that Dard balances well. One turn feels far more disturbing than the others -- the way Blaise finally 'wins' Germaine over -- and it's an ugly, sour note that contemporary readers likely have a hard time stomaching, but otherwise the novel and its surprising twists work very well.
       With a backdrop of the everyday dead -- Achille is kept busy -- The Gravediggers' Bread is all bleak atmosphere anyway -- making it all the more effective when Blaise senses some rays of sunshine. But of course it all sinks back in mud and darkness soon enough .....
       The Gravediggers' Bread moves along quickly. Much of the action is very compressed -- a roller coaster of highs and lows, will he stay or will he go, covering just the first few days of the story, for example -- but Dard's light touch, avoiding heavy-handed exposition, is effective. The whirlpool of the last third of the book covers a longer period, but moves just as fast, a downward spiral with its increasingly desperate moments of hope (and their dashing ...). And in conclusion, Dard has Blaise face the outcome he's been fated for all along -- though, yes, it's one that includes the opportunity for a small, rewarding bit of redemption. Yes, for all his loud self-confidence Blaise can't escape being loser, sucker -- and romantic.
       A neat little story, almost shockingly quickly presented -- making it all the more effective -- The Gravediggers' Bread is a quick but satisfying read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 September 2018

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The Gravediggers' Bread: Reviews: Frédéric Dard: Other books by Frédéric Dard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Frédéric Dard (1921-2000) is best known for his 'San-Antonio' novels.

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