Book review: ‘How’s the Pain?’ by Pascal Garnier

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Title: How’s the Pain

Author:Pascal Garnier, translated by Emily Boyce

Publisher: Gallic Books

Publication Date: 11th June 2012

Paperback: 163 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? I appear to be going through a phase of loving French Noir so when this gem dropped through my letter box I was hardly going to deprive myself of the joy.

Where to read? Although it’s not really the time of year for it anymore a trip to the seaside is apt for this story. So if you can brave the latter stages of a British summer I would suggest Whitby on Yorkshire Coast – Yorkshire has after all recently been voted Europe’s leading destination!

Refreshments:If you’ve heeded my advice and taken yourself to the seaside then you should also embrace the local seafood that usually is to be found in a cone i.e cockles, whelkes and mussels. However, if these don’t float your boat then a round of traditional fish and chips with lashings of vinegar.

Review

Simon, an old, vermin exterminator has unfinished business to attend to down the coast, before his frail health packs in, and he needs a chauffeur and companion to take him. Bernard a refreshingly innocent and optimistic twenty-one year old has only ever achieved one good thing in his life, passing his driving test. A chance meeting results in a business agreement and an unexpected friendship as the pair set off on a journey that is destined to change both their lives in both hilarious and horrific ways.

This story starts with the ending. As with many of Garnier’s works the importance is never really about the grand finale, otherwise you would only need to read the first two pages, it is always about the journey of the characters. This style forces the reader to really concentrate on the story rather than racing to the finish line.

Simon is brilliant. I could leave it there but I should probably expand on my point. His frank and direct manner is refreshing and so stereotypically that of a un homme âgé that you can’t help but smile when reading his sections of the story. Bernard, his alter ego, is resigned to his mundane life carries this off with an optimism and happy acceptance not yet tainted by the tribulations of life. Together they provide a perfect symbiosis for Garnier’s novella on human life and experiences.

My favourite character was Bernard’s mother who infrequently pops up amongst the chapters and presents the classic French eccentric divorcée. Her youthful entrepreneurial endeavours followed closely by her descent into rags and rum are fantastically entertaining. The stand out scene comes close to the end of the story when she leaves it to god to decide whether she’ll be drinking cleaning products or her reserve rum from the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

However, for the rest of the female cast I found their sub plots frankly irritating. The young mother, whose appearance on the scene comes pretty early into the story, and who attaches herself to Bernard like a limpet is the biggest offender. Her sense of entitlement and dictatorship over Bernard’s actions annoyed me and in fact had me wondering, out loud and in public I should add, who the hell she thought she was?

This novella is yet another seriously addictive example of French noir and reflection on human life, and one which will only take you a couple of hours to devour.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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