Re: RARA-AVIS: Jean-Patrick Manchette

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 07 Aug 2003

Jennifer wrote:

"I'm not an expert on Situationism but feel that its influence on Manchette comes through pretty clearly in those two novels."

I was going to write this even before I read your comment. I was less than halfway through The Prone Gunman when I pronounced that I didn't see any of the alleged influence of Debord, et al. I definitely spoke too soon. You are right that it comes through, particularly in the last 20-30 pages, both in the plot ideas and the style. As for my fears that engaging situationism in a crime novel would lead to the over the top parody of Steve Aylett, they proved unfounded. Manchette walks the line perfectly, satisfying the conventions, while simultaneously twisting them. I was too quick to say this had no elements of detournement.

A great bit of character description from the book:

"Seated in the darkness of the 504, Martin Terrier listened attentively to this news. His haggard face at first registered great perplexity; then it registered worry, thoughtfulness, or whatever other movements of consciousness that might cause his face to look the way it did. Once the news was over, the man started the engine."

I have just started Three to Kill. This seems to be a bit more unconventional in its telling and more engaged from the beginning (but still clearly by the same writer, I think you're right about the translations being faithful). The feel of this book is not unlike what little I have read of Calvino.

Part of the introduction to a character in this one:

"Georges Gerfaut is a man under forty. His car is a steel-gray Mercedes. The leather upholstery is mahogany brown, matching all the fittings of the vehicle's interior. As for Georges Gerfaut's interior, it is somber and confused; a clutch of left-wing ideas may just be discerned. On the car's dashboard, below the instrument panel, is a mat metal plate with Georges's name, address, and blood group engraved upon it, along with a piss-poor depiction of Saint Christopher. Via two speakers, one beneath the dashboard, the other on the back-window deck, a tape player is quietly diffusing West Coast-style jazz: Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Giuffre, Bud Shank, Chico Hamilton. I know, for instance, that at one point it is Rube Bloom and Ted Koehler's 'Truckin'' that is playing, as recorded by the Bob Brookmeyer Quintet.

"The reason why Georges is barreling along the outer ring road, with diminished reflexes, listening to this particular music, must be sought first and foremost in the position occupied by Georges in the social relations of production. The fact that Georges killed two men in the course of the last year is not germane. What is happening now used to happen from time to time in the past."

I look forward to reading your article, but I think I'll wait until I've finished Three to Kill.


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