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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Front Seat Passenger

Pascal Garnier

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To purchase The Front Seat Passenger

Title: The Front Seat Passenger
Author: Pascal Garnier
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Front Seat Passenger - US
The Front Seat Passenger - UK
The Front Seat Passenger - Canada
La place du mort - Canada
The Front Seat Passenger - India
La place du mort - France
  • French title: La place du mort
  • Translated by Jane Aitken

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Our Assessment:

A- : effectively simple and devastating

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 22/5/2014 Laura Wilson
The NY Rev. of Books . 9/4/2020 John Banville
Publishers Weekly . 28/7/2014 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) small but perfectly formed piece of darkest noir fiction told in spare, mordant prose. (...) Recounted with disconcerting matter-of-factness, this marvellously unpredictable story is surreal and horrific in equal measure." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Witty prose (...) will help win Garnier (19492010) new fans in the U.S." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Fabien Delorme is away for the weekend at the beginning of The Front Seat Passenger, visiting his father, helping him get rid of some old stuff that's been lying around the house for thirty-five years -- Fabien's mother Charlotte's things. She left them when the boy was five, and now she'd died and the elder Delorme was finally ready to let go. It barely rates as tragedy -- the woman wasn't part of their lives for over three decades (and yet the elder Delorme hadn't been able to bring himself to do away with the traces of her presence all that time ...) --, but something closer to tragedy awaits when Fabien returns home to Paris: he learns that his wife, Sylvie, was also away for the weekend -- and got herself killed in a car accident near Dijon.
       Fabien and Sylvie were passionately in love -- until they weren't:

Their love was the only thing that counted and they indulged it like an only child, until they smothered it.
       They didn't have kids -- they never much liked or wanted kids, except that when Sylvie did get pregnant, and terminated that, things were never quite the same again between them. Garnier's style, throughout his work, is to cut to the quick; this is just one of several episodes and incidents that come down like hammer-blows out of nothing, related in his simple, clipped style. Perhaps more obviously than anywhere else we find his writing here distilled to its essence here, in a simple, devastating succession of lines such as:
It was Valentine's Day. The abortion went smoothly.
       There are no wasted words in Garnier's sentences, or wasted descriptions: even as he leads the reader on what might feel like a meandering tangent -- it matters, or it will (and how: a lot of the power of his tight works is in his layering of effect, the final picture emerging when it all comes and fits together).
       There are also no wasted emotions. Fabien seems almost unmoved by Sylvie's death -- "Shit ... I'm a widower now, a different person. What should I wear ?" -- but love and grief, Garnier suggests, fester much more deeply and profoundly than we often admit.
       It turns out Sylvie was not alone when she died. She was with a man with whom she'd clearly been having an affair for some time, Martial Arnoult. Fabien doesn't really know how to process this information, which suddenly puts so much of his life with Sylvie in an entirely new light.
       Soon later he settles in with his recently separated friend Gilles, who has a little kid of his own that he gets to take care of a few days a week. The odd two-bachelor (plus toddler) pad makes for an absurd sort of living-arrangement -- "the apartment pretty soon became one giant child's bedroom", with toys littered all about -- but they're all quite comfortable with it. But Fabien, with too much time on his hands, begins to stalk his wife's lover's widow, Martine. Just observing her for the most part, but rather obsessively. And he has a vague notion of exacting a sort of posthumous revenge, by sleeping with the dead man's wife.
       Martine is hard to catch alone, almost constantly accompanied by Madeleine -- who, it turns out, also had a connection to the dead man. Taking some initiative, Fabien follows the two women when they go on vacation to Majorca. He gets to know them there, and manages to start an affair with Martine -- but the possessive Madeleine remains suspicious.
       Fabien doesn't drive. It was one of the questions the police asked him, when they had him identify the body -- they think another car might have been involved in the crash, and want to cover all the bases. Back in France, he is invited by the two women to go to the country -- by car:
Martine had insisted that he sit in the front. Madeleine had added, with a hint of challenge in her voice, 'You're not frightened of being my front seat passenger, are you ?' He had replied: 'Yes, I am,' but he'd sat there anyway.
       It's typical of Fabien, and sums up what turns out to be his situation, his life: he's along for the ride, but not in control. Powerless over where he's taken. He has the front-seat view of the world whizzing by, but his fate is entirely in the hands of another: he is a mere front seat passenger in life. (It's no surprise, either, that he's overcome by nausea on this particular trip.)
       Soon enough, in the blink of an eye, Fabien finds his world upended, his last illusions of being in any sort of control taken from him. Impressively, Garnier pushes him into the abyss -- and then takes him deeper still, until he is completely crushed (and recognizes himself for what he is, a front seat passenger ...).
       It's clever and razor-sharp writing and plotting, with deceptive calm and innocence and naïveté, and then shocking, sudden horror. No question, Garnier was a master of his art, and a wonderful-terrible art it was.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 September 2014

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The Front Seat Passenger: Reviews: Other books by Pascal Garnier under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pascal Garnier lived 1949 to 2010.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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