Best known for his “Marseille Trilogy”, which I haven’t yet read, the late Jean-Claude Izzo produces a harrowing account of homelessness on the streets of Paris. If this novel, written shortly before his death, is any indication of what his others are like, I can’t wait to read them. Brutal, harsh, and although not exactly a “noir” in the truest sense, still maintains some noir elements in this story.
At root, it is the story of Rico, a former family man, now homeless on the streets of Paris, suffers all the indignities and hardships you’d expect. It is the death of one of his friends in a freezing Paris Metro station that makes him decide to head south toward Marseille and the warmth of the Mediterranean to try to reconnect with long lost memories and a long lost love. He is hindered along the way, falling in with a prostitute named Mirjana, a refugee from the war in Bosnia, working the streets of Avignon. There are moments of humanity and tenderness with his relationship with Mirjana but Rico soon realizes that that things are really not much different for him than they were in Paris, only this time running afoul with the prostitute’s ultra violent Albanian pimp who does not like the idea of Rico staying with “his girl”. Soon things get very ugly.
It is around this point in the novel that you realize (as demonstrated by the narrative) that the faux-third person account is really being told by a kid named Abdou, an Algerian runaway who had been massively disfigured on the ship he stowed away on. He is actually telling the story, relating what Rico had told him. They form an almost father/son bond in Marseille and the rest of the story is nothing short of tragic, which I won’t reveal here.
All in all, a very enjoyable book with a great story and Izzo’s prose moves the story along with a quickened pace. The narrative twist is not the only twist here. I’ll leave that up to you to discover for yourself.