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Review: Le serpent majuscule, by Pierre Lemaitre

Right y'all, strap in, because this book is B-O-N-K-E-R-S. Absolutely insane. Also: massive trigger warning (not because of all the murders; but because there's a lot of abuse of sweet innocent puppies who never did anything wrong. I'm fine with killing people, most people deserve it; I draw the line at dogs. Humans do not deserve the goodness that is dogs).

This is the story of Mathilde, a hitwoman who was recruited by her old boss in the Résistance, who is putting off retirement despite the fact that she is starting to suffer from early onset dementia. This book is the perfect encapsulation of comic noir: Lemaitre is an incredibly gifted satirist, and that comes through loud and clear in this novel. All of the tropes of someone refusing to accept that they're getting old and need to take a step back are just somehow so much funnier when they're being explored through the lens of a paid assassin (there's quite a bit of misogyny in the way Mathilde is described by the men in the novel, but I'm hoping that's characters thinking rather than Lemaitre, so we're not going to go into it here because a bitch is tired).

This is a very fast, very fun read, but it certainly reads - as Lemaitre admitted in the introduction - as a first novel that was never considered finished enough for him to send to publishers. I think it would have been a bit more interesting if the story had stayed entirely with Mathilde, instead of flipping back and forth between perspectives, or if the murders she commits because she can't remember if she's been given a contract or not were given a bit more space instead of being throw-away plot points - or even if the investigation of the first murder she commits in the book was more of a chess match between her and the police investigator. Basically, what I'm saying is that I wish Lemaitre had revisited this very first manuscript and improved the pacing and the narrative structure a bit before deciding to publish it as is. There are the bones of a truly great novel here - it just needed a mature author to come back to it.

I still very much enjoyed it, though - it's a wickedly funny story, and it's an interesting read because you can see the writing techniques and character tropes that he works on throughout his thriller-writing career before bringing the best of that genre to his literary fiction career.

An English translation will be available in December and you can pre-order it here.

Happy reading,

Amélie xx

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I’m Amélie, I love books and reading, and I also love talking about them.

I’m incredibly lucky to be bilingual, so I read books in both French and English, and will talk about both of those on here – although I will do more in English, since I know that’s probably what the majority of the people who ever find this blog will be interested in!

I also like history, traveling, Shakespeare, coffee, cheese, musicals, Italian Baroque art, the ballet, Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You, flowers, makeup, high heels, and baking. Yes, I’m a walking cliché. I am aware.

Please do tweet at me with any suggestions/book recommendations/thoughts.

In case you’re curious – yes, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time.

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