The other side of life on the French Riviera, as seen with understated compassion and intensity in this previously untranslated 1982 collection of thematically related—and brilliantly written—stories.
French New Wave veteran Le Clézio is best known for such knotty postmodern texts as his prizewinning first novel, The Interrogation (1960)—and insufficiently recognized for his more conventionally realistic fiction, of which these 11 tales are memorable examples. They illuminate a world of the underprivileged and outcast, where teenaged girls combat boredom by joining motorcycle gangs (in the title story), or become victims of their impulses toward adventure (“Ariadne”); or, in the ironically titled “The Great Life,” embark on a spree of petty crime while pursuing dreams of escape from moribund housing projects and soul-numbing jobs (“It was as if they were on the other side of the world . . . [or] lost thousands of miles away, deep in outer space.” Other vagrant protagonists include an escaped prisoner lulled into carelessness by the pristine beauty of a “mountain wilderness” (“The Escape”); a bereft lover who “haunts” the scene of his girlfriend’s death in a car accident (“Anne’s Game”); and a nine-year-old schoolboy (“David”), whose failed attempt to run away from home like his older brother before him suggests that we’re watching the birth of an adult criminal. The disparity between a shimmering landscape’s romantic promise and the grim realities of ordinary lives is powerfully etched in a little girl’s fearful observation of a demolition crew at work (“Yondaland”) and an adult observer’s bitter memories of a wealthy neighbor’s lavish “Villa Aurora” as it was during his youth and as it is under the pressure of urban renewal and inevitable change. And in the chilling little masterpiece “Moloch,” poverty is unsparingly incarnated in the figures of a despairing pregnant woman and a silent, menacing “wolf”-like dog.
A fascinating tour of the wild side, conducted by a writer who has been surprising us for over forty years.