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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Inhuman Resources

Pierre Lemaitre

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To purchase Inhuman Resources

Title: Inhuman Resources
Author: Pierre Lemaitre
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 326 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Inhuman Resources - US
Inhuman Resources - UK
Inhuman Resources - Canada
Cadres noirs - Canada
Cadres noirs - France
Lavoro a mano armata - Italia
Recursos inhumanos - España
  • French title: Cadres noirs
  • Translated by Sam Gordon

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Our Assessment:

B : way over the top, and tries to do too much, but lots of solid bits to it

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 31/8/2018 Barry Forshaw
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/12/2018 Tina Jordan

  From the Reviews:
  • "As ever with Lemaitre, this is exhilarating stuff, with pedal-to-the-metal violence. Earlier books incorporated examinations of the nature of identity, but there is no such philosophising here as the reader is drawn into the chaotic world of the driven protagonist." - Barry Forshaw, The Guardian

  • "Lemaitre is very good at depicting Delambre’s diminishment by scores of tiny humiliations, each one a sharp little blade slicing down to his very soul. (...) The drama builds to a tense showdown when Lemaitre inexplicably shifts narrators, causing some last-minute lurching. But he powers through it, and you won’t see his final twist coming." - Tina Jordan, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       Inhuman Resources has a simple premise: Alain Delambre is fifty-seven and looking for a job, and when he finally seems to have the opportunity to land one, he's willing to do almost anything to get it. The one-time HR manager was laid off four years earlier, and while he has some lowly part-time work -- a 5:00 AM shift sorting boxes of medication for a pharmaceutical company -- he has been looking for a suitable white-collar position ever since. His loving wife, Nicole, has a job, so they get by, but their standard of living certainly has fallen off quite a bit, and the situation is just getting worse. Alain puts on a brave face, but there's more than just a whiff of desperation to him.
       When a supervisor at his lowly job -- a former fellow drone who was promoted -- kicks him in the rear Alain can't hold back and head-butts him, an attack that, even though provoked, will continue to have ramifications for him beyond just being let go from that job. But even as he seems to be reaching a new low, there's a glimmer of hope for Alain: a few days earlier he had sent off his CV to a headhunting firm looking for an "HR assistant for a big company" -- a position Alain is ideally suited for. Even though he (realistically) worries that his age more or less disqualifies him from being seriously considered, he gets a letter inviting him to take an aptitude test -- meaning he's at least vaguely in the running for the spot.
       He doesn't think he does particularly well on the test but, miraculously, he's invited for an interview and then told that he's one of four finalists invited to take the final, decisive test. As the recruiter explains:

Our client intends to assess a selection of their top execs. Your mission is to conduct this assessment. You will be tested, if you will, on your ability to test others.
       Indeed, the selection of the person to fill the HR vacancy is almost incidental: the main point of the exercise is to test five company executives to see who is best-suited for a vital new role -- but since they're already doing that, they figured they might as well test candidates for the HR position in the same exercise: "We are simply killing two birds with one stone".
       The problem lies with the nature of the exercise: a simulated hostage-taking, to see how the executives handle the pressure of such an extreme situation.
       Alain knows he really has to prepare for the test -- including figuring out who the actual employer is (the consulting firm keeps that information secret) and then, if possible, who the executives who will be tested are. He's willing to invest a lot to obtain that information and properly prepare himself, and begins burning bridges, one after the other, in getting himself ready. His wife, for one, is horrified by the idea of the test, and doesn't want him being involved with anything like that.
       Some of this is pretty silly, as Alain really invests an unrealistic lot into preparing for what lies ahead, but Inhuman Resources continues to unfold like the expected thriller of a man driven to absolute extremes to land a job -- the reader just wondering at what point, and in what way, he'll break. Hand it to Lemaitre, however: Inhuman Resources does not stay on the obvious track.
       The novel is divided into three parts: 'Before', 'During', and 'After' -- the central (but also shortest) part being that decisive, extreme test for both the executives and the HR job candidates. The first and last parts are narrated by Alain, while the middle section is narrated by David Fontana, the well-trained professional who organizes (and is then present for) the actual hostage-taking exercise.
       As it comes time for the big test, Alain's situation just becomes more desperate. Fontana sees how nervous he is when the time comes -- more than that, even:
I had all the confirmation I needed that everything was about to go down the tubes. My concern had given way to certainty. Yet still I did nothing. Monsieur Delambre had a screw loose. We could easily have canceled the test for the HR candidates without interfering with the assessment of the execs. It was just that the two operations had always been linked in my mind, and so the idea never occurred to me. And from then on, everything went too fast.
       Yet this climax is only the midway point of the novel. Alain is an unpredictable mix of the careful and deliberate planner and the impulsive -- and continues to be that. As he admits:
     Right from the start, I've been acting without any real notion of how this will finish. I'm improvising. I react when I'm staring a situation in the face.
       One might suspect this is as much Lemaitre's confession as Alains's, as the story continues to twist in its unexpected new ways. And Lemaitre really piles it on. A lot of this is beyond far-fetched -- beginning with the lack of blow-back for the firm that came up with the insane idea of simulating a hostage-taking to test their executives -- but Lemaitre moves the action forward compellingly fast, each new absurd twist helping to suspend disbelief a little while longer.
       Along the way, Lemaitre has some decent fun with Alain's dry assessment of how employees are treated in modern-day capitalism (and how easily firms can get their employees to do most anything for them, loyalty (and the fear of getting fired) easily trumping morality). Perhaps most successful, however, is how Lemaitre presents Alain's relationships, with his wife and two daughters, and his one close friend. There are unrealistic actions and reactions here, too, but it's these human ties which add a necessary emotional layer to what otherwise might be a too harsh and cold retribution and revenge fantasy.
       Inhuman Resources is wildly uneven, and parts of it just too far-fetched, but it is a decent read, and Lemaitre certainly serves up a lot more than readers have any reason to expect. The fact that it's ultimately too unrealistic, in so many of its details, is somewhat disappointing -- Lemaitre likes to go over the top, and he goes way, way over here -- but Inhuman Resources is a solid piece of entertainment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 September 2018

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Inhuman Resources: 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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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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