Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre (translated by the brilliant Frank Wynne) was my first experience with this celebrated French crime writer but it won’t be my last as Blood Wedding, a tale of obsession and revenge, is one of the best crime novels I’ve read in a long time, thanks to a thrilling plot and an ingenious structure.
Sophie is a woman in her thirties who works as a nanny, looking after a little boy called Léo. Sophie is a troubled person, plagued with insomnia, nightmares and memory loss which appear to be linked to the suicide of her husband. Sophie herself is convinced that she has gone mad, but she has no idea how bad things are about to get.
When she awakens from her latest memory lapse, she discovers that Léo is dead, strangled with one of Sophie’s shoelaces. She has no memory of committing the crime, but is the only person who has been at home with the child, so she seems to be the obvious culprit. It turns out that Léo’s death is the latest in a long list of tragedies that have befallen Sophie, including the death of her mother-in-law who fell down some stairs and the suicide of her husband Vincent after he was in a terrible car accident.
This morning, like so many others, she woke with tears streaking her face and a hard lump in her throat though she had no particular reason to be upset. Tears are an everyday occurrence in her life: she has wept every night since she went mad. … Since when? Since Vincent’s accident? Since his death? Since the first death, so long ago?
Sophie knows that there is something wrong with her mental state, but she is smart enough to know what she will be blamed for Léo’s death, so she withdraws all her money from the bank and goes on the run.
It seems that Sophie has a knack for staying hidden and despite a country-wide manhunt, she has managed to evade arrest months later. She knows it can’t last and hatches a plan to meet a potential husband via a dating site and change her identity once and for all.
To tell anymore of the rest of the plot would be to do a disservice to anyone who hasn’t read Blood Wedding and doesn’t know anything about it, because that is the best way to come at this book. In an audacious twist, Lemaitre switches narrator halfway through the novel and pulls the rug out from under the reader, up-ending everything that has come before presenting the plot in a very different, much more sinister light. It is an absolutely bravura stunt and is testament to Lemaitre’s skill in plotting and pacing that he pulls it off. But pull it off he does, and as he eventually returns to Sophie’s point of view, the true nature of the difference between madness and manipulation has been divulged.
What Lemaitre also does well is to create, in Sophie, the most unreliable of narrators. Not only does the reader feel suspicious about what Sophie is telling us, but Sophie herself can’t trust anything either. Her terrifying confusion and panicked memory loss makes for tense reading and Lemaitre perfectly captures the panic and debilitating disorientation perfectly. She is a fantastically realised character and although some sections of the book are incredibly depressing and often graphically violent, the reader is with the resourceful and indefatigable Sophie all the way.
As the plot unfolds, Lemaitre effectively swaps between narrators in what becomes a cat and mouse race to survive where the tension is almost unbearable. This is a novel that is deliciously unpredictable, tipping a nod to Hitchcock and dripping with claustrophobic atmosphere.
Frank Wynne does a stellar job with the translation, capturing perfectly a sense of terrifying confusion within a tightly plotted structure.
Blood Wedding is a riveting, disturbing novel which explores the nature of madness and the power of suggestion. Featuring believable characters, despite the often unbelievable plot, this is an undeniable sensation of a book that justifies Lemaitre’s reputation as one of the foremost international crime writers.
READ ON: IBOOK
NUMBER READ: 328
NUMBER REMAINING: 418
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!