I really enjoyed reading His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet after discovering it through the Man Booker Prize shortlist last year. His 2014 debut novel ‘The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau’ which was also published by Contraband tells the story of Manfred Baumann, a loner who lives in the nondescript French town of Saint-Louis in Alsace and frequently dines at a bistro where waitress Adèle Bedeau works. When Adèle suddenly disappears one evening after finishing her shift, Manfred quickly comes under suspicion. However, after giving a false statement to Inspector Georges Gorski in which he fails to admit that he was the last person to see her alive, his life begins to spiral out of control.
As well as being a relatively rare example of genre fiction on the Man Booker Prize shortlist, ‘His Bloody Project’ was notable for being presented as a “true crime” story in the form of a series of documents “discovered” by Burnet. He pulls a similar literary trick with his debut, posing it as a long-lost novel published by a cult French author (coincidentally named “Raymond Brunet”) in the 1970s which he claims to have “translated”. Overall, I think ‘His Bloody Project’ has added narrative complexity in terms of form but the device of uncertain authorship is used just as effectively in ‘The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau’.
I also found ‘The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau’ to be the more emotionally unsettling of the two books. The portrayal of Manfred is the most effective character study of social awkwardness and repression I have come across in quite some time and I felt an escalating sense of dread as his obsession with routine and increasing paranoia gradually consumes him. Inspector Gorski is an equally intriguing character and his flawed personality, family background and past failures are explored thoroughly.
The essence of life in an isolated provincial French backwater – particularly the feeling of time having stopped on a Sunday – is captured brilliantly. Although supposedly set in the 1980s, the atmosphere is relatively timeless in the face of unchanging routine. Consequently, the pace is rather languid and characterisation definitely takes precedence over plot to the point where the circumstances of Adèle’s disappearance become almost peripheral. However, I expect the majority of readers, like me, will turn to this book after reading ‘His Bloody Project’ and will know what to expect from Burnet’s deceptively complex plot devices and therefore won’t be disappointed.
‘The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau’ is a psychologically astute novel with an evocative setting and well-drawn characters. I look forward to reading its sequel ‘The Accident on the A35’ which will be published in October and sees Inspector Gorski investigating a new case in Saint-Louis.