Sometimes there’s no accounting for taste, including my own. I could come up with a list of reasons that I’m unenthusiastic about Fatale, the J.P. Manchette novel newly translated from the French, but I’m not sure any of those reasons are particularly good ones. The novel is entertaining enough, but it just didn’t do much for me. So let’s see if I can figure it out. I’ll start with the story and see where I end up.
When we first meet her, the novel’s titular fatale shoots a man dead while he’s out hunting and walk away. She gets on a train and spends some time almost literally rolling in a pile of money:
She went on eating and drinking and progressively lost control of herself. She leaned over, still chewing, and opened the briefcase and pulled out fistfuls of banknotes and rubbed them against her belly streaked with sweat and against her breasts and her armpits and between her legs and behind her knees. Tears rolled down her cheeks even as she shook with laughter and kept masticating. She bent over to sniff the lukewarm choucroute and she rubbed banknotes against her lips and teeth and raised her glass and dipped the tip of her nose in the champagne. And here in this luxury compartment of this luxury train her nostrils were assailed at once by the luxurious scent of the champagne and the foul odor of the filthy banknotes and the foul odor of the choucroute, which smelt like piss and sperm.
This is an exciting bit of writing! This fatale, who soon takes on the name of Aimée Joubert, seems to be all about pleasure, and evidently, her pleasure is in what she can get for herself. She may not be likable, but she seems like an entertaining character to follow.
When Aimée disembarks from the train in a new town, she puts a new scheme in motion. She gets to know the people of the town and finds out their secrets. All of this is somehow meant to serve herself, but her plan takes a while to become clear to the reader.
I think the scheme itself is part of the problem. It’s clever enough, but not a stunner by any means. And there are so many characters involved, none of whom come across as much more than sketches. The book felt like the skeleton of a better, more interesting story. Even Aimée, with her early promise of reveling in the id, seems too distant from the reader. There’s just no flesh on these bones. Toward the end, we get a little bit of back story, but it’s unconvincing and just a little trite. Plus, it turns Aimée into a muddle—is she a crusader for pleasure or against assholes? She could be both, but that’s a lot of motivation to pack into a mere 100 pages when you’ve got a complex crime plot to unfold. Neither motive ends up feeling authentic.
The book closes with a spate of comic book–esque violence that (I hope) the author doesn’t mean for us to take seriously. But to me, it didn’t feel fun either. It seems like it should read like the denouement of a Tarantino film, but I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe I’m losing my taste for violent entertainment of this type, or maybe this kind of thing works better for me on the screen than on the page. I did enjoy Aimée’s final declaration that closes the book, but I’m not sure that the book itself justifies the bold statement at the end.
But I’m also not sure of my own opinion. I possibly could have loved this in a different mood. The flaws are the kind of thing I can easily overlook if I’m really into a book. It’s short anyway, so if you’re at all interested, you won’t waste much time if you give it a try.