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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jean-Patrick Manchette

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To purchase Nada

Title: Nada
Author: Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Novel
Written: 1972
Length: 181 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Nada - US
Nada - UK
Nada - Canada
Nada - Canada (French)
Nada - France
Nada - Deutschland
Nada - Italia
Nada - España
  • French title: Nada
  • Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
  • With an Introduction by Luc Sante
  • Nada was made into a film in 1974, The Nada Gang, directed by Claude Chabrol

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Our Assessment:

B+ : simple, crisp, strong

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The outcome in Nada is never in doubt: the first chapter is a short letter written by a policeman to his mother, summing up what happened to: "the Anarchists who kidnapped the U.S. Ambassador": "I will not dwell on a bloody slaughter fit to turn your stomach", the thoughtful son glosses over the details -- and indeed, Nada is typical for a Manchette-novel in having a high (and often gratuitous) body count. But in this first short digest all Manchette does is make clear that the plan and its resolution will not have a happy outcome; the novel then jumps back and lets events unfold chronologically.
       The terrorist group hatching the plan to kidnap the American ambassador to France is more a loose assemblage than any sort of ideologically-driven organization: 'Nada' is a proper designation for the near-nullity that they represent, anarcho-terrorists without any real programme, the ransom they hope to get out of it as much the goal as any message they hope to send. Just how loose a grouping they are is also already made clear in the second chapter, which has one of the characters try to recruit another for the planned job, and be summarily dismissed ("I don't want to hear any more. Fuck off !") -- though in fact the Épaulard they try to get on board eventually does join in. Meanwhile, another, more involved member, the hotheaded (and soon former) teacher Marcel Treuffais, gets cold feet -- even though he's the one who: "wrote most of our manifesto".
       Still, they have a plan, and it's pretty well researched and thought-through. They're helped by the fact that, while Ambassador Richard Poindexter's schedule is fairly unpredictable, he does make regular visits to a local high-class bordello -- the obvious place to nab him. The plan even goes pretty well -- well, aside from a fatality or two ... --, as does the getaway. It's just their bad luck that in this day and age before anything resembling video surveillance, someone was on hand conducting ... film surveillance. That, plus the fact that some of the group-members weren't particularly careful about keeping information well under wraps -- an easily found address books yields up names and addresses ... -- does, however, soon have the authorities hot on their trail.
       The authorities aren't just the police as such; various other law-enforcement agencies, legitimate and also less so, itch for action -- and for seeing justice, as they see it, served. In particular, one Commissioner Goémond -- "who was temporarily without any particular assignment but had always proved himself exceptionally devoted to the State" -- is very much a take-charge character, seeing fit to handle things as he sees fit -- meaning also: with a very heavy hand.
       The action -- the hostage-taking and -holding as well as the investigation -- unfolds quickly and straightforwardly, the narrative propelled to a showdown with its foregone conclusion (even as the kidnappers mention favoring simply surrendering if the police catch up with them -- but then that depends on them being afforded the opportunity to do so ...).
       In an effective narrative technique, several chapters end with preview sentences, a succinct, one-line summary of what is to come, before these events are then described at greater length in the following chapter(s):

     On the Friday, the anarcho-terrorist squad kidnapped the U.S. Ambassador.
Cash was mistaken: things would not get better tomorrow. Tomorrow they would be dead.
       Manchette doesn't want to leave any doubt: fates have been determined, and he wants that to be clear even before he gets around to describing them. The details are just that; the basic outlines (and ends) have been clear from the start. (For all that, there's a surprising amount of suspense to Nada -- as also the siege-'n'-slaughter isn't the end of this story, or the final chapter for some of the characters .....)
       Manchette doesn't glorify the terrorists. They're a motley bunch, some with long histories -- including variations on arguably political activism -- but there's not much to this group, as a group, politically or otherwise. Theirs is now a last resort -- more out of lack of imagination than anything else, reduced to basically empty action because everything else has come up empty too. One of their demands is that their manifesto be published, but that seems more feint -- to suggest some (any ...) political bona fides -- than something they really care about; there's barely any mention of what the manifesto might have to say. And, typically, when the ambassador asks one of his kidnappers what they even are -- "Maoists ?" is his first best guess -- he doesn't get a straight answer; indeed, Nada-man Épaulard wonders:
     What exactly was he ? He couldn't fucking say, and it bugged him.
       The police-state is hardly sympathetically painted either -- but does draw back from the extremes, with Goémond (who goes way overboard) quickly (if not quite thoroughly enough) banished from the ranks.
       Manchette diagnoses:
"Leftist terrorism and State terrorism, even if their motivations cannot be compared, are the two jaws of ..."
     He hesitated.
     "... of the same mug's game," he concluded, and went on right away: "The regime defends itself, naturally, against terrorism. But the system does not defend itself against it. It encourages and publicizes it. The desperado isa commodity, an exchange value, a model of behavior like a cop or female saint. The State's dream is a horrific, triumphant finale to an absolutely general civil war to the death between cohorts of cops and mercenaries on the one hand and nihilistic armed groups on the other.
       Which sums up Nada pretty well.
       This is a pretty basic story, crisply, straightforwardly told, a battle between two extremes -- the State and its contras -- who, in finding meaning only in the battle, both tend towards losing sight of any sensible ends (though Manchette allows for elements of reason -- if not fully prevailing ones -- on both sides). And, yes, carnage ensues. (But hand it to Manchette: he does carnage as well as anyone.)
       All too plausible, and all too relevant even in present day circumstances (where only the make-up of the factions, state and otherwise, makes for a different surface-appearance), Nada is a very good and satisfying quick little thriller.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 September 2019

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Nada: Reviews: The Nada Gang: Jean-Patrick Manchette: Other books by Jean-Patrick Manchette under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Patrick Manchette lived 1942 to 1995.

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© 2019-2023 the complete review

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