Consequences by Philippe Djian

“Evil’s out of hand in this country.”

Earlier this year, Emma pointed me in the direction of Philippe Djian’s novel, Consequences. It’s a great title as the main character, Marc, a middle-aged professor whose failed literary career has led him to teach creative writing, has reached his 50s in a life full of bad choices that is still, miraculously, consequence-free. But this is all about to change, and it changes rapidly within the first few pages. After an evening of drinking, Marc drives one of his young students back to his “lair” for “one full night of fun.” The next day, the girl, whose name he can’t remember, is dead. Marc doesn’t hesitate; he disposes of her body in a deep crevice on a hillside in the nearby woods.

consequencesStrange reaction … but then everything about Marc is a little strange. Not that the casual observer would necessarily pick up the warning signs right away. After all, Marc is a professor, middle-aged, and lives with his sister, Marianne. The fact that he lives with his sister is a little worrying, and then again they are awfully close. On the surface, Marc seems a ‘normal’ libidinous middle-aged professor who compensates for life’s disappointments by engaging in meaningless sexual encounters with students.

Quite a few years ago, he’d understood that the time had come to take advantage of certain perks that came with his profession–for lack of the better rewards that he had to stop expecting. One day, by a kind of miracle, one of his students began to glow as he looked at her–from the inside out, like a Chinese lantern with a wonderful gleam–but was, despite this, insipid and ordinary, almost devoid of interest, and absolutely incapable of putting two sentences together. Yet, just as he was brutally jeering, in front of other students, at work she’d turned in, he was blinded by a blast of heat. And this girl turned out to be the first in a fairly long series, as well as one of the most satisfying lays he’d ever had.

Richard Oslo, the department head, a real cretin in Marc’s opinion, isn’t the least attractive to women, so Marc congratulates himself that he may not have gained the directorship, but at least he can seduce any woman he wants. To Marc, this “reestablishes the balance.” Marc congratulates himself on a narrow escape from some messy consequences with the dead girl and starts lining up his next affair with a student who “was making use of lower and lower necklines as the year advanced.” There’s no shortage of eager young female students, it seems, but all of Marc’s erotic machinations fly out the window when he meets Myriam, the gorgeous red-headed step-mother of the missing girl. Marc, who normally steers clear of mothers, has never had sex with a woman older than 26. He’s powerfully attracted to Myriam, and since her husband is somewhere in Afghanistan, she’s alone.  Marc is warned to stay away from Myriam by Richard Olso, who sees a PR nightmare ahead, but Marc is already hooked into the chase:

Certainly a department head had a more comfortable salary, and the power that came along with it, especially in these uncertain times, had to be very enjoyable. Yet attracting women, turning the heads of widows, students, housewives, and holding on to that gift, appealing to these fucking women before you even opened your mouth, without putting the slightest effort into it–well, he said to himself, now that was something that gave pause for thought.

He wouldn’t have traded places with Richard, There was no sense thinking about it for hours. Ten or so years ago, his life had changed. It made a 180-degree turn the day he realized how something that seemed so complicated was really so easy. Things took on a different cast. And what a relief that had been! What a profound rebirth, in fact.

From there to thinking he wasn’t against extending his hunting grounds to mothers, to the parents of students and the like, was a step he took easily.

One very clever device utilized by Djian is the collision of consequences. Initially Marc, who ironically is teaching a course of “John Gardner and moral literature,” escapes all the consequences of his actions–his casual affairs, and the way he treats his female students. As the days pass, the author gradually reveals glimpses of Marc and Marianne’s childhood, so that we see how these middle-aged siblings live, daily, with the consequences of their childhood. Memories of the past and actions of the present are interwoven until the consequences of both collide.

At 195 pages, this is a slim, deeply unsettling novel, and one that is very easy to underestimate. Initially when Marc doesn’t question why the girl died and he decides, casually, to toss her body into the crevice, the plot seems implausible or at least sketchy. As the book unfolds, events as they are explained or presented to us by Marc become increasingly questionable. I’m used to an unreliable narrator in the first person. Henry Sutton’s Get Me Out of Here and Michael Dibdin’s Dirty Tricks are both superb example of just how far authors can go (and have fun) with narratives told by unreliable narrators. Philippe Djian takes the riskier road less travelled and for this novel, using the third person, he tells the story through Marc’s eyes.  It’s all so very cleverly done, and yet because this is a third person narration, Djian initially risks alienating the reader with a story that appears to have implausible actions committed by the main character. All the red flags would have popped up sooner with a first person narration, but the third person narrative places an additional murkiness to events in this dark tale of crime, twisted relationships, and the inability to escape the consequences of one’s actions and experiences. The cover, reflecting the narrative in multiple ways, is a perfect choice for the novel. 

Translated by Bruce Benderson.

This is the second Djian novel I’ve read, and I’d rate Consequences above Unforgivable. So thanks Emma for another great recommendation.

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20 Comments

Filed under Djian Philippe, Fiction

20 responses to “Consequences by Philippe Djian

  1. I also think that this one is better than Unforgivable. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
    Djian is one of my favourite contemporary French writer. He’s deeply influenced by American writers. I’ve been reading him since he wrote Echine, in the 1980s. I like his style and the atmosphere of his books. The characters are darker and darker as Djian gets older. His last one Oh! had excellent reviews last year, the paperback version should be released now, I should check it out.

    Why did you find Marc’s reaction to Barbara’s death a bit sketchy? It’s not the obvious reaction but it happens often in novels. (In crime fiction or in others, like in 18% Grey, when he keeps the marijuana)

    The relationship between Marc and Marianne is a bit hard to stomach at times, isn’t it?

    Perhaps you’d like his 37°2 Le matin. (Betty Blue)

    PS: good sign for the book, I remember the characters’ names.

    • I have Betty Blue here and I should get to it as I really really loved the film.

      As for Marc’s reaction being weird (and wondering if it was a fault of the book), he didn’t stop and wonder HOW she died. She was just dead and needed to be thrown away like a piece of rubbish. Plus then he didn’t think about it but moved on. At that early point, I didn’t know that he was an unreliable character and instead thought that perhaps the novel had some of the flaws I found in Unforgiveable.

      Yes, the relationship between Marc and Marianne… hard to stomach is the correct phrase there.
      My book announced that he’s France’s #1 bestselling author. is that true?

      • I don’t know if he’s France’s #1 bestselling author. The inevitable Marc Levy and Guillaume Musso probably sell more than him. But yes, he’s quite famous. He’s got a series entitled Doggy Bag (that’s the French title as well) which reproduces in books what a TV series can be. And it’s good.

        Djian says he could start living of writing after he wrote songs for Swiss singer Stefan Eicher. Two or three albums were a great success and it gave him a steady income.

  2. Sounds great. As I tend to like longer books 195 pages sounds like it was a bit too short. Do you feel this could have been longer?

  3. Bought. As though I didn’t have enough to read already!

  4. I haven’t read him in a while but tend to like him. I loved Betty Blue. Movie and book. I guess because that was such a huge success and made into a movie that certainly helped his career.
    I’ll keep this one in mind for a Djian mood.

  5. I have Vengeances at home and I’m curious about it.

  6. leroyhunter

    Sounds very interesting – thanks to you and Emma both for the tip.

  7. I have seen his books around quite a bit, but knew nothing about them. Now I know a little more, so I’ll pick one up next time the opportunity presents itself.

  8. I didn’t think this existed in an English translation, so I’m delighted to be wrong. I recall Emma’s review of it too, which tempted me. 195 pages seems spot on too as the kind of length I’d look for in this sort of novel.

    One to add to the list I think.

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