Sunday, May 10, 2009

the last book I read

Rider On The Rain by Sébastien Japrisot.

I didn't expect to be doing another one of these quite so soon, but this is a very short book, and, in contrast to the last one, it's written in such a way as to be shorter even than the number of pages (151 in my Harvill Press edition) would suggest.

Just to digress for a minute, it would be a much more accurate and useful measure of a book's length to state the number of words in it as well as the number of pages. Since this one has a lot of dialogue in it (for reasons I'll come to in a minute) and since it's a smaller A-format paperback (my copy of The Double is in the larger B-format) its words-per-page ratio is considerably lower. Print size and spacing can vary considerably between books as well; for instance despite all being B-format paperbacks Independence Day and Riven Rock have quite small, tightly-spaced print while Arcadia and On Chesil Beach have larger, more widely-spaced print (almost absurdly so in On Chesil Beach's case - the publishers were obviously keen to bump up the page count as much as possible).

Anyway, I digress. Japrisot is quite a celebrated crime writer in France, though I'd never heard of him until I came across a couple of slim paperbacks in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye the other day. Many of his books have been adapted into films, most famously A Very Long Engagement which was filmed in 2004. If my research is correct, however, this one is a retrospectively-novelised version of Japrisot's screenplay for the 1970 film noir starring Charles Bronson and Marlène Jobert (a few clips can be found here, here and here. Just as a tempter, the last one features Bronson gruffly speaking French and slapping some French bird around, and then having a fight).

I seem to have digressed again. The amusingly-named Mellie Mau lives on the French Riviera with her frequently-absent husband (a navigator for Air France). One day she sees a stranger get off the bus in a rainstorm. That evening the same stranger breaks into her house and rapes her; she later confronts him in the cellar, kills him with a shotgun and disposes of the body over a nearby cliff. Shortly after she meets American Harry Dobbs at a wedding - Dobbs seems to know a lot about her, her assailant and the events of that night, and a cat-and-mouse (chat-et-souris, if you will) game ensues. As you'd expect from a noir-ish crime thriller there's plenty of twisty-turniness and trickery before the end.

It's not just because it's quite short and dialogue-rich (since it's essentially a screenplay) that you can zip through it quickly, it's because it's genuinely compelling. It's a bit like an Elmore Leonard book transposed to a French Riviera setting with more smoking, Gallic shrugging and pretty women with Jean Seberg haircuts driving open-topped sportscars along winding clifftop roads at unsuitable speeds.


nicola said...

Regarding your first comment about amount of words etc, are you talking about "tracking" or "leading"?
I am an expert in the field as this is wot I do to earn me bread 'n' butter.
Fascinating stuff, eh.

electrichalibut said...

Actually that is quite fascinating, though that may say more about me than the topic.

The answer to your question is, probably a bit of both, though it's the ruddy great gaps between the lines (i.e. the "leading", if I've grasped the concepts correctly) that makes On Chesil Beach about twice as thick as it needs to be.

My theory is that there's a minimum number of pages required to qualify as a novel rather than a "novella" or something, and thus be eligible for all the lucrative awards like the Booker.

electrichalibut said...

And what about kerning? There's another whole can of typographical worms, right there.