Moon in a Dead Eye by Pascal Garnier

Yes, it was like living on holiday, the only difference being that holidays came to an end. It was as though they had bought themselves a ticket to the afterlife; they no longer had a future.”

I thought when I read How’s the Pain, I’d found my favourite Pascal Garnier novel, but the decision was premature. How could I know what was in store for me in Moon in a Dead Eye, a darkly funny look at a ‘dream’ gated retirement community and its handful of pathetic inhabitants. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that people sometimes make strange retirement decisions–some move across country to places they’ve only ever visited briefly; others move to houses they’ve bought sight-unseen over the internet, others strip their retirement nesteggs to build dream retirement homes out in the middle of nowhere only to find themselves running out of money or ripped off by contractors, and spouses who’ve lived together for 40 years decide they can’t take another day, pack a suitcase and split.   All these observations and memories came back to me as I read Moon in a Dead Eye

Moon in a dead eyeMartial and Odette Sudre retire from Paris to Les Conviviales, a retirement community in the Midi. Concerned about the increased violence in their Parisian neighbourhood, the retirement community seemed to be the ideal alternative–especially when the estate agent told them that they “exactly fitted the owner profile the property company was seeking.” It was a hard-pressure sell, and Martial and Odette, narcotized by the thought they’d be surrounded by people just like them, signed on the dotted line….

Now, three months later, it’s December and Martial and Odette arrive to discover that they are the sole inhabitants of the community. True, there’s Monsieur Flesh,  a caretaker-manager, a surly antisocial type, but what happened to all the other promised residents, the activities director, the sunny weather? But not to worry… there’s another couple due to arrive in March or April.

Martial and Odette are like shipwreck survivors washed up in a ghost town. Odette, the one who pushed for the move in the first place, refuses to be unhappy with their decision to move, so she throws herself into her new life and hobbies which is probably just as well as there’s nothing else to do. First she starts making crappy apple jelly, and then moves on to torturing her husband with culinary ‘surprises’ from around the world. Imagine how thrilled they are when someone else finally moves in. Maxime (with his false teeth and dyed black hair)  and former ballerina Marlene Node, another retired couple of course, move in up the street. From a distance the Nodes seem younger than the Sudres, but up close, it’s a different story. If these two couples met elsewhere, they’d instinctively avoid one another, but if there are only four of you living inside a gated community, you don’t have a choice but to become friends.

They engaged in the customary small talk for a quarter of an hour, all the while studying each other closely out of the corners of their eyes, like naturalists examining a newly discovered species.

So now we have 4 people, 2 couples in this forced friendship created by circumstance. Then a fifth person moves, a younger, single woman named Léa. By this point, the other four residents are desperate for a new face:

She had been a little taken aback to find the four of them on her doorstep. The removal men had only just left and she had barely had time to get her breath back. They stood there smiling like Jehovah’s witnesses, the tall one especially, Maxime Node. He was the one who introduced everybody, showing them off as though trying to get a good price for them. Then they all began talking at once, each of them impressing on her their willingness to help. They didn’t seem like bad people, but they still frightened her a bit. Too eager, too smiley, too many outstretched hands … so old and wrinkled it was hard to tell whether they were grasping or giving.

A gated community exists to keep out the riff-raff, and the residents who buy into such an arrangement are happy with that idea. M. Flesh is there to make sure that the outside world doesn’t creep in and intrude on their fabricated middle-class isolation, but the lengths he goes to are extreme. Plus then there’s the whole gate part of ‘gated community.’ At what point do you become locked in instead of the world being locked out? When gypsies move in and set up an encampment down the road outside of  Les Conviviales, paranoia reigns and all hell breaks loose.

Moon in a Dead Eye is savagely hilarious, and most of the humour comes from snobbery & paranoia. Garnier doesn’t spare his characters; they’re a sad lot whose empty lives become worse when they move into this gated community.  Aging lothario Maxime sees the poor as “vermin” infesting society, and when he’s inside a gated community with people in his own economic sphere, he can only associate with a couple in his peer group. In theory this should comfort Maxime, but the isolation only fuels his paranoia. Maxime finds the company of people his own age disconcerting as he’s spent the last few years denying the fact that he’s aging, and he spends a considerable amount of time and energy to disguising, unsuccessfully, his age. Living in a retirement community just confirms the fact that Maxime is no longer young, and this fuels his feeling of exposure and vulnerability. The ‘security’ of the gated community feeds the paranoia gnawing at Maxime until any difference seems unacceptable and threatening:

A lezzie, that’s what she was! A dirty bloody lezzie! … The only reason they’d bought this dump was because they’d been assured their neighbours would be of a certain caliber, no one too foreign, no dogs, no cats, no children or grandchildren for more than two weeks at a time … Well, if they were going to let lesbians in, it would be fairy boys next!.

While in the past in Orléans, feeling as though he lived a life under siege, Maxime carried a revolver, but he’s no more secure now–especially after the gypsies appear. They’re just more people who according to Maxime are “out to get us and take our things.” Living in isolation, even in a place that theoretically safe, hasn’t done Maxime any favours.

They had been burgled three times in recent years. The residential neighbourhood of Orléans  where they had lived for many moons had become a prime target for the scum who came in from the outlying boroughs. Nothing could stop them, not the most sophisticated alarm systems or the patrols that took place day and night. They were everywhere and nowhere, gnawing away like vermin at the foundations of the stable, quiet life people had worked so hard to build.

Living in this retirement community is a sort of living-death, a hibernation phase just prior to the permanence of death. Garnier shows how this sort of isolation is unhealthy and contributes to the idea that any sort of difference (class, wealth) feeds paranoia. Although the subject matter is different from the dying hitman of How’s the Pain and the disaffected killer in The Panda Theory, once again I’m reminded of Jean-Pierre Manchette, probably because of Garnier’s merciless view of the bourgeoisie. 

Review copy/own a copy.Translated by Emily Boyce


Filed under Fiction, Garnier Pascal

23 responses to “Moon in a Dead Eye by Pascal Garnier

  1. Great review. I’m up for this one as I loved How’s The Pain and The A26. I can see how the setting makes this, as there’s something quite unhealthy and disconnected about the gated-community environment; almost like a hinterlife, as you say.

    It’s interesting you draw a comparison between Garnier and Manchette as I was thinking of his sideswipes at bourgeoisie society in Fatale as I read your review.

    • Thanks Jacqui. I read The Panda Theory first and thought that it would appeal to Manchette fans for its brevity and subject matter, but with How’s the Pain and now Moon in a Dead Eye, I see a Manchette-Garnier connection in regards attitude to the bourgeois. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

      Gated communities are strange places, and while I understand the need (I watched a documentary about them and their popularity) there’s a unique mentality to them. Thursday Night Widows is another book set in a retirement community and it’s highly recommended btw.

      • That’s interesting as Max mentioned Thursday Night Widows as part of a brief exchange we had on his blog. I think it was in the context of women writers (under his #ReadWomen2014 post), and he also recommended Widows. It’s in his review pile, I believe…either way, it sounds like another one for my shopping list. Thanks for the note.

  2. Brian Joseph

    I have had the same observations about people making retirement moves. Insightful idea for Garnier to focus a novel’s plot on this phenomenon.

  3. Loved How’s the Pain and excited to hear you find this better still. Have you read Ballad’s Running Wild, a satire on gated communities?

    • No Seamus I haven’t, so I looked at Amazon for a review and the first one was titled “Unpleasant but required reading.” That’s a grabber. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Jonathan

    Ipicked this up in a charity shop when I recognised the author from your last Garnier review. I nearly started it the other day but changed my mind and went for McGrath’s ‘The Grotesque’. I may read this one next though as it sounds really good.

    • I read The Grotesque some years ago and liked it a lot. My favourite McGrath though is Dr Haggard’s Disease. You would enjoy Garnier I think. There’s a twisted vision of life here that would appeal.

  5. Interesting that you should say that about people’s retirement decisions. I’ve seen this happen as well. Poeple picking a map and going where the finger landed, sort of. And, of course, it did go so wrong. This sounds like the Pascala Garnier I’d like to read the most. Terrific premise.

    • Yes weird isn’t it about people & retirement. I wonder if there are psychological studies on the subject. I think sometimes there’s a lot of delayed gratification going on or people want to grab whatever life they have left and run with it. You’d enjoy this book Caroline. I even laughed out loud in a couple of spots.

  6. This sounds like an American novel in a French setting. Gated communities are really rare in France, there are a few of them in the Midi. Maxime carries a gun? Nobody carries a gun here unless they’re a policeman.

    Maxime is probably a bit paranoid per se: I’ve never heard that Orléans was a dangerous city. Never heard of riots or higher crime rate or whatever gives a city the “dangerous” tag.

    That said, this gated community thing is great novel material. I can’t wait to discover what he did with that. I expect it to be really, really funny. Hell is other people, right?
    I’ve always wondered why people moved far from their hometown for retirement. Isn’t it weird to cut off ties with your friends and family? In France, they tend to go to the South, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region (Marseille-Nice) or Midi-Pyrénées (Montpellier)

    What’s the French title of this one?

  7. So looking forward to this. The gated community is the social experiment for our times. Maybe this is the genre for today’s middle-class reader much as the “dinner-party” genre used to be.

  8. I also reviewed this book very recently. I enjoyed it a lot. This was my first Pascal Garnier, received from Gallic Books, I will definitely try more by the same author

  9. Have just read this. You know, even though I did find it funny I was quite surprised at how savagely angry it seemed. Haven’t felt this in him before.

  10. It just sounds fantastic. I’m not surprised to hear Gert refer to savage anger, that came out to me from your review. I have his A26, at least if I bought the wrong one to start with there all very short. I’ll look out for this as my second assuming I like A26 (which I expect to).

  11. Once again I have to thank you for pointing me to a book I might not otherwise have read. I’m now waiting for six other Garnier novels to land on my doormat. Impatiently.

  12. I read this on holiday (sight irony): great stuff. Really reminded me of Ballard’s 90’s books about hellish “exclusive” communities, Super Cannes and Cocaine Nights.

    Went straight out and bought Front Seat Passenger when I got home.

  13. I have some Ballard on the shelf unread, so that’s some encouragement.
    I have two Garniers left: the A-26 and Boxes which, from the sounds of it, are not his best, but I’ll read them.

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