Having enjoyed the slightly surreal dark humour of a couple of Pascal Garnier’s other books, The A26 and How’s the Pain?, I was keen to read more by this author. And when I saw Guy Savage’s review of Moon in a Dead Eye, I knew I had to try this one.
Moon in a Dead Eye is set in Les Conviviales, a secure gated community in the South of France. In the opening pages of this novella, we meet Martial and Odette Sudre, recent arrivals at the community lured there by the promise of ‘a fresh approach to retirement’, activities at the village clubhouse and a life in the sunshine. Trouble is, as the first residents to move into Les Conviviales, Martial and Odette find themselves rattling around with little to occupy their rain-soaked days. The only other occupant is Monsieur Flesh, the rather creepy caretaker-manager. In fact, the whole place has the eerie atmosphere of a graveyard, a mood augmented by the clinical, almost sanitised feel inside the couple’s bungalow:
Everything had that box-fresh, plastic smell. Fair enough, it was practical, everything worked as it should, but it was like living in a hotel. (pg. 8, Gallic Books)
Through the window, the row of TV aerials stretched off into the distance like crosses in the cemetery. We’ve bought ourselves a plot to lie in… (pg. 11)
Martial was none too keen to move in the first place, but now they’re here, Odette is determined to make the best of things. She furnishes their bungalow with all manner of mismatched tat and yearns to find new hobbies, ‘anything as long as it’s new!’
A month or so slips by, and finally another retired couple – Maxime and Marlène Node – arrive at Les Conviviales and the Sudres are dying to make their acquaintance:
Madame Node’s girlish figure appeared at the end of the hallway, but as she walked the few steps to the door with her hand outstretched before her, she gained the full weight of her years. She was still slim and trim, but the spots on her skin (which seemed to have undergone a facelift or two) made her look like a withered reinette apple.
‘Oh, how kind of you to come! Marlène. How do you do?’
It was extraordinary how Maxime Node could talk whilst still displaying his dazzling array of teeth. (pg. 17)
The Nodes have come to this gated community for a variety of reasons: a decline in Maxime’s health despite his deluded belief that he still looks pretty dashing for a man of his age; an increase in crime and burglaries in the Node’s Orléans neighbourhood; a sense of feeling under threat in their own home.
At first, the two couples gossip about one another behind their backs. The Sudres consider the Nodes showy, while Maxime cannot imagine himself seeing in the New Year with the Sudres – they’re just not his type of people:
‘Not likely! And as for socks with sandals, dear God!’ (pg. 24)
But seeing as they’re the only residents in this enclave, the two couples form an attachment, and soon they’re running errands for one another and socialising together.
Into this mix comes Léa, a single woman, another retiree; she’s friendly, unassuming and attractive, and it’s not long before Maxime – who has form in this area – makes a play for her with hilarious results.
In Moon in a Dead Eye, Garnier explores our sense of paranoia as a society, particularly that which exists amongst the middle-classes. Maxime seems paranoid about many things: growing old; the criminals or ‘vermin’ who gnawed away at his and Marlène’s nice life in Orléans. And here, inside the bubble of Les Conviviales, Maxime wonders if the residents are under surveillance. After all, those CCTV cameras are everywhere:
They weren’t exactly fighting for space at the pool. In fact, it was starting to feel a bit weird, all the empty houses. Maxime had joked about it the other night.
‘What if they’re watching us, like guinea pigs in a lab? They could secretly be filming us and studying us like rats…’
‘Why us? There’s nothing out of the ordinary about us. We’re just normal people.’ (pg.44)
Garnier augments the slightly sinister tone of this novella with little touches, such as these lines strategically planted at the end of a chapter:
An ant emerged from between two flagstones. Knitting its antennae together, it seemed to ponder which way to go. Marlène crushed it under her foot. (pg. 26)
And the author steps it up a notch when a group of gypsies arrives and set up camp down the road from the gated community. Maxime’s phobias magnify and he’s convinced the gypsies are all set to invade Les Conviviales:
‘You obviously don’t know much about gypsies. They’re masters of disguise. You don’t see them, you think everything’s peachy and then, bam! You end up with a knife in your back.’
‘That’s a bit over the top, Maxime.’
‘Not at all, Odette! I served in the war; I know a thing or two about ambush…’
‘You fought against the gypsies, did you?’
‘No, of course not! But they’re all the same…’
‘Who’s all the same?’
‘Other people! The ones who are out to get us and take our things! Oh for Christ’s sake, forget it. If you’d rather shut your eyes to it and let them cut your throat while you sleep, that’s your problem.’ (pg. 72)
These passages illustrate Maxime’s lack of tolerance with ‘other people,’ anyone he considers beneath him or threatening in some way. Anyone who isn’t ‘normal.’ Life inside the hermetically sealed bubble of the gated community simply accentuates these feelings. Moreover, the emptiness and deserted state of the village reflects the disappointments, regrets and missed opportunities in the occupants’ lives – each character looks back on these moments at certain points in the narrative. It’s as if they’re simply existing. Waiting. Caught in an airless trap:
‘…Right from day one, I’ve felt like I was living under a bell jar here – do you know what I mean?’
‘Absolutely. A big glass cloche, like the ones you put over melons.
‘Exactly…a glass trap.’ (pg.103)
Garnier has a great deal of ruthless fun with this set-up. Moon in a Dead Eye is a terrific little novella, shot through with wicked humour at the expense of this ill-fated bunch of characters. There is much darkness here too; almost a sense of Garnier prodding his characters as he waits for everything to kick off. The ending is spectacular and brilliantly surreal, and I didn’t see the exact nature of it coming (even though I had a sense of what to expect based on the other Garniers I’ve read). In his review, Guy drew the comparison between Garnier and Jean-Patrick Manchette, and I can see the similarities. Reading Moon in a Dead Eye, I’m reminded of Manchette’s sideswipes at bourgeois society in Fatale. And for some reason, I’m also reminded of Adam Curtis’ documentary series The Power of Nightmares in the sense of how fear of a phantom enemy can breed paranoia causing us to exaggerate threats that have little grounding in reality, the consequences of which can be colossal.
Moon is a Dead Eye is my favourite Garnier so far. Highly recommended if you like this type of thing (which I do).
Moon in a Dead Eye (tr. by Emily Boyce) is published in the UK by Gallic Books. Source: review copy kindly provided by the publisher.