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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Now the Night Begins

Alain Guiraudie

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To purchase Now the Night Begins

Title: Now the Night Begins
Author: Alain Guiraudie
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 231 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Now the Night Begins - US
Now the Night Begins - UK
Now the Night Begins - Canada
Ici commence la nuit - Canada
Now the Night Begins - India
Ici commence la nuit - France
Qui comincia la notte - Italia
  • French title: Ici commence la nuit
  • Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman
  • With an Afterword by Bruce Hainley and Wayne Koestenbaum
  • Prix Sade, 2014

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Our Assessment:

B : strangely twisted but quite compelling tale that veers between the repugnant, the disturbing, and the poignant

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Libération . 22/10/2014 Gérard Lefort
Le Monde . 23/10/2014 Thomas Doustaly
Publishers Weekly . 22/1/2018 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Il y a du San Antonio dans Guiraudie, mais du San Antonio qui aurait lu Orwell. Un intello populaire, un populaire intello, comme on voudra, mais c’est plutôt à prendre qu’à laisser." - Gérard Lefort, Libération

  • "A Sade, Guiraudie emprunte d’ail­leurs le mystère d’une écriture qui parvient à détailler des scènes pourtant irréelles, dont les images d’horreur jaillissent sans répit (le livre vient du reste de remporter le prix Sade). Mais la scato­logie de Guiraudie, car c’est bien de cela qu’il s’agit, est un joyeux «pipi caca» qui tire." - Thomas Doustaly, Le Monde

  • "All but the most steely fans of sadistic thrillers will find the novel too aimless and disturbing." - 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:

       At forty, Gilles Heurtebise thinks: "the best of my life is behind me", feeling an empty- and aimlessness. He's a more or less unattached homosexual with an active social and cruising life, but limited intimacy; Paul, one partner he has had as close and lengthy a relationship as with any, is married -- and thus only intermittently available -- for example, and Gilles hasn't ever met Paul's family. Gilles' account begins with him on vacation from his sales job; typically, he can't muster the will to do anything more ambitious, and he just hangs around Roquerolle, the small town he's lived in for the past six years. He's restless, but also knows that regardless what he does, he'd probably quickly get bored by it; he's missing a specific goal or ambition, and so he just putters about.
       The novel opens with an extended episode that shifts from the comic-puerile to the disturbingly menacing, violent, and violative. Gilles goes to visit Mariette, an old woman living with her ninety-eight-year-old father -- called Grampa by everyone -- whom Gilles happened to befriend while waiting for their neighbor when he came there because of his job. They took to each other, and Gilles comes to visit every now and then. On this occasion Mariette's grand-daughter, Cindy, a girl in her early teens, is also there; her parents have left her with Mariette for the summer vacation.
       Mariette has hung up Grampa's underwear to dry after doing the laundry, and Gilles, thinking himself unobserved, takes one of them, changes into it, and later masturbates in it. And then hangs the soiled underwear back on the laundry line. Mariette, annoyed by the disappearing underwear -- it's not the first time a pair has gone missing -- actually calls the police, and they actually come to investigate. And things go south from there. Gilles' guilt is pretty obvious, and the chief cruelly takes matters in hand. What he does goes way beyond teaching Gilles a lesson -- and humiliates Grampa as well. It's a shocking escalation and very discomfiting scene, a kind of police brutality, described in all its very unpleasant detail, that obviously has profound aftereffects. And in a way Now the Night Begins is the story of those aftereffects -- which are, in part, hardly what might be expected (and eventually include both a murder and an (apparent) suicide).
       Gilles was drawn to Grampa's underwear because they reminded him of a youthful indiscretion, when he had similarly marked the underwear of a friend's father, and he's always had a thing for older men, but his feelings for Grampa aren't exactly sexual: as Gilles himself understands:

What could I possibly do with Grampa ? Kissing him is impossible. Taking him into my arms, yes, but that's the extent of it, and even then I'm not sure
       The sexual does play a part in practically every way Gilles relates to people -- even though he is adamantly homosexual, he even still has fantasies about Cindy -- but his genuine desire for Grampa is a somewhat different kind of longing. Gilles seems to want an intimacy missing from his life, and finds a connection with Grampa, who reciprocates this feeling. Their longing, and desire to be with each other, is essentially romantic -- almost innocently romantic -- but also largely thwarted by a disapproving Mariette and the continued involvement of the police, who actually come by the house regularly to check in on Grampa. (Plausibility is stretched very thin for parts of the novel, but it's not fatal to the slightly absurdist tale.) Meanwhile, Cindy -- an increasingly rebellious teenager -- is generally supportive of Gilles and her great-grandfather -- but also develops her own crush on him.
       The story takes some unexpected turns, with the police chief a prominent presence whose role shifts dramatically, even as Gilles has more reasons to be disconcerted about what he's witnessed the chief do. Along the way, there's a considerable amount of sex, or at least sexualized activity, with Gilles however finding himself rather soft and ineffectual much of the time. He does find the occasional satisfactions -- and, briefly, an intense relationship -- but there are also instances when climactic release is anything but satisfying, such as when Cindy is involved.
       There's a very casual attitude towards sex in Now the Night Begins -- and there's rather a lot of it. Gilles shares his sometimes disturbing thoughts -- including about very underage Cindy -- and also doesn't spare readers the unpleasant details of, in particular, the defining violation in the book (it involves a great deal of excrement); even those who aren't particularly squeamish will likely find some of this stuff discomfiting. Yet sex also seems almost perfunctory with a lot of Gilles' hooking up, as everyday as any of the meals he has.
       Gilles has many acquaintances, but the familiarity is often of the superficial kind, like the hook-ups at the local lake that's a known cruising spot, where the men often barely remember one another Gilles is constantly seeking out company -- companionship as well as sex -- and worries about being alone, imagining himself, for example:
Alone in the middle of the lake with nobody around, I don't even dare imagine it. I think this would be too much solitude for me.
       Grampa offers him a human connection that he hasn't been able to find elsewhere -- but it's also a sort of love that isn't meant to be.
       Guiraudie's novel has the menace of a mystery and thriller, but also the poignancy of a romance; it's an odd mix, but he makes it work, for the most part -- even as the story repeatedly veers towards the near-absurd. (Along the way, Gilles enters into another, more traditional sort of intimate relationship for a while -- but it, too, is an obviously impossible one that can't last.) The novel feels honest, raw, and real, Gilles' surprisingly genial voice authentic -- not too self-pitying, even as he is aware of how he is a bit pathetic.
       Among the particularly effective devices Guiraudie employs is the use of Occitan, the local language that is barely used any longer (close to but not entirely dead) but which Grampa and Gilles often use to communicate, not quite a secret language but one that clearly separates what they have from the surrounding (French) everyday. Gilles even acknowledges that it makes their connection more primal: "Grampa moves me more when he talks in Occitan", with its additional layers of meaning and memory, of a different time and world.
       Parts of the story can be difficult to stomach, and the casualness to especially the sexual relationships can be off-putting, but there is a genuine and very human poignancy to the story as well, and filmmaker Guiraudie handles plot-points and twists in effective cinematic fashion, also giving Now the Night Begins a thriller-edge that certainly holds the reader's attention.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 July 2018

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Now the Night Begins: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie was born in 1964.

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© 2018 the complete review

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