I read Pierre Lemaitre’s novel Blood Wedding last year and very much enjoyed it so was keen to read more of his work. Inhuman Resources doesn’t disappoint, featuring a perfectly paced plot, thrilling narrative and ingenious structure.
Middle-aged Alain Delambre had a stellar career before he was made redundant from his job in HR. Four years of fruitless job searching have left Alain a shadow of the man he once was, working a menial warehouse job to make ends meet. As he and his wife Nicole struggle to survive on her wage alone, Alain feels helpless, as he is unable to make necessary improvements to his apartment, or help his grown daughters get on the property ladder.
Stress. It’s sort of like a thread that each of us carries inside, a thread whose resistance we can never really predict.
However, a glimmer of hope arrives when BLC – a multinational company – offers him an interview for a lucrative position. Alain is so desperate for a job that he doesn’t question the company’s bizarre recruitment procedure, which involves him taking part in a “role play exercise,” in which Arab actors playing armed commandos seize top executives of the oil company Exxyal, a BLC client, in order to assess their behaviour under “violent and sustained stress.” Alain throws himself into preparations for the interview. He is so desperate to get the job that he hires a private detective, cons his daughter out of her savings to pay for said detective and risks losing his wife Nicole, who is appalled that he would take part in such an exercise. For Alain, this is his last chance to get back the life he feels he deserves and to regain his dignity.
Unsurprisingly then, when Alain discovers that all is not what it seems and that he has been set up to fail in this particular interview process, he snaps. His actions during the hostage taking role-play unleash a series of deceptions, narrative twists and unbelievable scenarios designed to make the reader’s head spin. What has started out as a sedate exploration of unemployment in middle-age soon becomes a full-on exhilarating ride featuring car cases, court cases, embezzlement and murder.
As well as being a compelling and entertaining psychological thriller, Inhuman Resources is also a pointed exploration of the insidious nature of unemployment, especially among older people. The first section of the novel is slow-paced as we follow Alain through the daily humiliations that now blight his life and Lemaitre is very good at depicting Delambre’s diminishment over time by various tiny humiliations, each one bringing him to a more desperate place than he was before. The book is peppered with statistics about rising unemployment and rising bonuses for top executives that creates a situation where you can’t help but cheer on Alain as he takes his revenge on a company that has destroyed his last shred of hope.
Having said that, Lemaitre is smart enough not to make Inhuman Resources a simple story of the underdog fighting back. Alain is not a particularly likeable character. This is a man who is not above conning his daughter out of her life savings on the possibility of getting a job and throughout the book, he continually puts his own needs above those of the family he claims to love so much. As he moves from small lies to serious crimes, we are reminded that this man was once one of the executives he now rails against, and as such, is not averse to using some inhumane manipulation of his own.
I will never forgive the system for what it is doing to me. Fine, it’s me who is rolling around in the mud, me who is being vile, but in exchange, may the gods of the system give me what I’m due. May they let me back in the game, back in the world. Let me be human again.
Inhuman Resources is a perfectly paced, exhilarating thriller, which is seamlessly translated by Sam Gordon, capturing the absurdly dark humour at the heart of this desperate tale.
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