El Moncef (Sleepwalking, 2012, etc.) offers a psychological thriller in which one man must solve the terrible secrets of his own past.
Tariq Abbassi, frustrated poet and restaurateur, is desperately attempting to reconstruct his memory following a terrible accident. Hospitalized at a remote care center in rainy Brittany, Tariq struggles to sort the true facts of his life from those he has merely imagined: the “monstrous” death of his children; a traumatic brain injury; the ambiguous role of a police commissaire; his work with a holistic psychiatrist and a hypnotherapy team; “The redeeming role of my mother’s letter—for all its unspoken terrors, its deliberately naïve swiftness and platitudinous illusions of closure”; and his close friend Zoé Selma Brahmi—“the terrible things that will happen to and through her.” From the Tunisia of his childhood to the Paris of his student days, from his difficult family to his failed loves and lost sons, Tariq must confront the nature of guilt and determine what exactly he is guilty of—and why. El Moncef’s prose startles with quiet brilliance: “Even in my Sorbonne days I used to find the narrow lanes behind the Panthéon sad and strange at the end of a summer day: there was always a resigned and melancholy feeling about those moments, when the buildings east of the Place took on the last flush of sunset—a short-lived miracle of enchantment on the facades of pale stone, too fickle and passing to be true.” The nature of truth and deception (willing and otherwise) is ever at the forefront, and the way el Moncef weaves his story, subtly accruing suspense through the accumulation of Tariq’s memories, creates a reading experience that is simultaneously weighty and invigorating. El Moncef seeks to explore what it is that we may construct with our pain and what it is we may have buried beneath it. The result is a literary enigma of the highly satisfying variety.
An immersive, finely wrought mystery of tragedy, loss,