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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Faïza Guéne
Age Range: 14+
This is Fäiza Guéne’s third novel and it is much more of a cross-over title that will appeal to young adults. Bar Balto is a crime novel set on a poor housing estate on the outskirts of Paris. Jöel, the unpopular owner of Bar Balto has been murdered. He is found dead in his flat lying naked and covered with multiple stab wounds. For the investigating team, it is not so much a case of who killed him but who didn’t kill him as it seems that many of his customers have a strong motive.
In a series of talking heads, each character tells the reader their stories in their own very different and unique voice. This provides a series of hilarious monologues, some of them interior monologues and others purportedly statements given to the police investigating the murder of Jöel.
The suspects are a motley crew: Magalie – ‘aka the Blonde’ – is obsessed with Paris Hilton; Yéva is still attractive in early middle-age but has become bitter and disappointed with the hardship of daily life; Jacques, her unemployed husband is a gambler, forbidden to gamble by his wife and who spends virtually the whole day watching television only visiting the bar to get the couple of scratch-cards he is allowed daily. Yéva and Jacques have two sons, Tanièl, has dropped out of college and now spends his days on the streets hanging out with his friends as well as pursuing the ‘Blonde’ and his younger brother Yeznig who has learning difficulties and often disappears from home. Finally there are the twins, Nadia and Ali who are from Marseilles.
Interspersed between the narratives from each character there are news bulletins from the radio and press reporting the murder and speculating about the killer. Three of the monologues are by Jöel himself, speaking from the grave; an unusual idea but it actually works well in the context of the novel and finally allows the reader to discover what really happened to him.
Much of the language the characters think and speak is street language which is often coarse and vulgar but Guène has the ability to make it hugely entertaining. Guène in her own words says the novel is a continuation of her ongoing theme of ‘the invisible people in society’. She never patronises her characters writing about them with sympathy, understanding and a sharp wit.