This week’s Pick of the Week is a bone-chilling detective novel from French author Pierre Lemaitre. When Alex Prevost is kidnapped, her abductor’s only desire is to watch her die. But as the story unfolds, we’re left wondering: Is Alex the one with something darker to hide?
Watch our exclusive video from the author, and keep reading for a Q&A with Pierre.
READER STORE AUTHOR EXCLUSIVE
AUTHOR Q&A WITH PIERRE LEMAITRE
Your two main characters, Alex and Camille, both have unisex names. How do you name your characters? What meanings do these names have for you?
For the secondary characters, I usually just look in the phone book for a name that matches the idea I have of them. For the main characters, it is more challenging because I spend more time with them. With Alex herself it was clear from the beginning: a short name, ambiguous, international, and androgynous to echo Verhoeven’s first name Camille… Alex’s surname comes from a classic French novel, Manon Lescaut.
Your writing at times feels extremely cinematic. Have you been inspired by any films or filmmakers in particular? Which other authors have inspired and influenced your style, both within the thriller/suspense genre and in other genres?
I belong to the first generation of authors born with both television and cinema, so it is quite natural that my writing would feel the effect of that. Moreover, I was really influenced by “cinematic” novels such as War and Peace or The Count of Monte Cristo. Then, there is also my method of writing: firstly because my novels are divided into scenes, like in a screenplay; also because my way of conceiving those scenes consists in projecting them onto my “internal screen”. Writing, for me, is describing what I see upon that screen.
Despite the seriousness and horror of the novel’s plot, your writing is sprinkled with a liberal amount of humor. In your view, what is the place of humor in the thriller genre?
I think that humor, for a novelist and for anyone else, isn’t something you choose. It is inherent to one’s personality, or not. In crime novels, humor has a much more peculiar effect than in other fictional genres because it creates a strong contrast with the dark circumstances of the crimes. Humor is a great way to achieve effects that no other method would permit so efficiently.
The mirror is a strong and important trope in the book, especially for Alex, who is able to check in on herself and her life status by analyzing her outward appearance. What was your process for conceiving and describing your characters’ appearances? Do they have any symbolic significance?
The physical appearance of my characters is rarely fully described. I try, as often as possible, to resort economically to two or three specific characteristics to condense the peculiarities of a character. Ideally, and it’s never easy to do so, those few characteristics should be enough to express what is common to every hairdresser and specific to this hairdresser in particular.
Art, the art market as well as the personal life of the artist and her effect on her son, is an important thread to understanding the character of Camille. Why was it important to you to have your Commandant be so intimately linked to art and artistically sensitive?
If, as I said, Alex is quite similar to Manon Lescaut, Camille is very close to Toulouse Lautrec. It is a great regret of my life that I could never sketch, so I created a sketcher to make up for it. Another benefit from having an artist as a character (even a failed one like Camille) is that he can speak a different language than that of the investigation. Finally, creating Camille’s mother, a bad woman and at the same time a great artist, was a way for me to put Camille under the sign of a contradiction that will follow him all through the trilogy.
What kind of research did you do in order to render characters, scenes and descriptions so vivid and believable?
I don’t do much research at all. I am not interested in making sure that the gun, the shop or the newspaper I am mentioning really exists. Whenever I need a street, sometimes I find one, but sometimes I make one up. What I am really interested in isn’t the accuracy of my descriptions, but the truth of my characters, so that the reader feels close to them (positively or negatively)—he considers them, while reading, as real people.
A book needs to have some sort of universal appeal to work in foreign markets, and this one certainly does survive translation. Do you think this is a story that could take place anywhere in the world, or is there something particularly Parisian or French about it? In other words, if this book were set in some other country or city, would it lose something truly essential to the story?
I would love to be able to say that my book tells a universal story! It is the dream (or the fantasy) of every novelist to be read and understood as much by a Brazilian reader as by an Inuit. In Alex, I create a setting in Paris to give a color and atmosphere to the story, but I try to develop themes that I believe are universal: revenge, family neuroses, violence against women, and so on.
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