The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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July 21, 2011

Paris in July: It charms you

'... I know, Mathilde. Adamsberg has this voice that charms you and makes you drop your guard, but he never relaxes at all. His voice has distant pictures and vague thoughts in it, but it's leading inexorably to some conclusion, although he may be the last to suspect that himself.'
      'Have you finished? Is it all right if I eat my lunch!'
      'Of course. But listen to what I'm saying. Adamsberg doesn't attack, but he transforms you, he weaves his way round you, he comes at you from behind, he leads you on, and in the end he disarms you. He can't be caught out and tracked down, not even by you, Queen Mathilde. He'll always get away, because of his gentleness and his sudden indifference. So to you or me or anyone else, he can be a good thing or a bad thing, like the sun in spring. It all depends how you expose yourself to it.  And for a murderer he'd be a formidable enemy -- you ought to realize that.  If I'd killed someone I'd prefer to have a cop chasing me whose reactions I could predict, not one who's as hard to grasp as water, then suddenly turns to stone. He flows like a stream, he resists like a rock, he's on his way to his destination, the estuary. And a murdered could easily drown in that.'
      'A destination? An estuary? Don't be silly, that's ridiculous,' said Mathilde.

I have mixed feelings about quirkiness. In mysteries, for example. I like the Flavia de Luce series, and love Martha Grimes' Richard Jury novels (mildly quirky). Elizabeth George is one of my favorite mystery writers, but I only got through about two chapters of Fadeaway Girl before putting it aside. A book like this one, where none of the characters, histories, conversations, actions or situations seem to be normal, everyday ones, wouldn't seem destined to work for me, but it did.

Maybe it's because the book, and its characters, are French and quirky.  Or maybe it's because the writing is so snappy. A woman (a famous oceanographer who follows people as well as fish) walks into a police station and regales the commissaire (an equally famous 'wild child' from the Pyrenees who feels at home in Paris because it's full of stones) and regales him -- someone she's never met -- with her philosophy of the days of the week. A few pages later, her new friend, a beautiful blind man, warns her not to be too glib about the commissaire by telling her exactly how Adamsberg thinks.  While I was reading this, I was thinking 'He met him once! He spent maybe an hour with him!'  and then, a few sentences later, the famous oceanographer says something like 'You met him once! You spent maybe an hour with him!'   It's hard not to be mind, after that.

... At least when you're dealing with pectoral fins, you've got something to say that other people don't know. But as for anything else, why bother? Why do anything or write anything? To attract others? Is that it? To seduce people you've never met, as if the ones you have met aren't enough for you? ...
I loved the characters, the Paris setting, and the ending of The Chalk Circle Man, and I've discovered a new mystery series and writer to follow (new to me, anyway).  Apparently, Fred Vargas (she's a woman) is very well known in France. Our library has the first book in another series (already requested) and four more Commissaire Adamsberg mysteries (bliss!) and in one of them he travels to Quebec with his team. If he could meet Armand Gamache, that would be amazing.

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