French without Tears

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Sébastien Japrisot is a name that sounds thoroughly French, though it snags awkwardly on the hinges of the surname. Which is because it’s actually an anagram of the author’s real name, the more euphonious Jean-Baptiste Rossi. The intriguingly verbose title of his most memorable thriller, however, is a literal translation of the original French – La dame dans l’auto avec des lunettes et un fusil.

Lady, car, gun – you get the picture – but the glasses? There’s the snag, the detail that doesn’t feel quite right. What’s going on? I’m afraid I can’t possibly tell you. The plot of this thriller is so fantastically bizarre, so impossible to figure out – at least on first reading – that to disclose it in any detail would be an act of literary desecration. But let me set it up for you. Dany Longo, our heroine and part-time narrator, commits a rare spontaneous act. She borrows her absent boss’s car and heads south, fleeing an empty 14 July weekend in Paris. She wants to see the sea, or, more specifically, the glamorous Riviera. But as she drives, weird stuff starts to happen.

She’s not gone more than fifty miles before an old woman sitting outside a café signals to her to stop. ‘I got out of the car. Her voice was very loud but hoarse and asthmatic. I could hardly understand her. She told me that I had left my coat at her café that morning.’

How could that be? Dany had been in Paris that morning – the reader knows that and so does she. But there’s more. This crone turns out to be only the first of many people she encounters who assure Dany that she is repeating the journey she made a day earlier.

And that’s all I’m going to reveal, plot-wise. Sufficient to say that the complicated character of Dany – one of those colourless little office drones whose meek appearance is a calculated mask that covers a seething mess of resentment and bitterness formed, in her case, by an orphanage childhood – becomes m

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About the contributor

Karen Robinson is supplements editor of the Sunday Times – and a frequent visitor to France.

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