Crush: Frédéric Dard (1959)

“And you will never know how big that green car seemed, or how deliciously it smelt of America.”

Pushkin Vertigo continues its very impressive output of unusual crime books through another venture into Frédéric Dard territory with a third title: Crush, a tale of longing, obsession, and murder. The double meaning of the title becomes horribly clear around the book’s halfway point.


Bird in a Cage and The Wicked Go To Hell earlier Dard releases from Pushkin Vertigo, were both told by a male narrator. In Crush, we have a seventeen year old female narrator, Louise, who lives in Northern France in a very unpleasant town named Léopoldville. The place is ugly, dominated by a large chemical factory, “chimney stacks spewing out great clouds of smoke that seem to stretch up into the sky for ever before falling back down on the town below,” and the air stinks of cabbage. Things aren’t much better at Louise’s home; she lives with a mother she’s ashamed of and her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Arthur, in a wreck of a rented home.

In common with most of the other people in the town, Louise works in a factory. In order to glam up her dull life, Louise, who longs for escape, begins walking through the moneyed areas of Léopoldville and is entranced by glimpses of the lives of an affluent American couple, Mr and Mrs Rooland. She begins dawdling outside of their home:

At first sight, it looked like the others: two storeys, an arrowshaped weathervane sitting on top of the gable roof, with little stained glass windows and some steps leading up to a front door flanked by light-blue earthenware pots… But what set it apart was a funny sort of feeling that floated in the air around the house. How can I explain it? It seemed like it was somewhere else. Yes, it was a Léopoldville house, but it existed on a sort of desert island all of its own. A tiny, mysterious island, and one where the natives seemed to live bloody well too.

Walking by this house becomes a habit for Louise. She sees the Roolands relaxing on a swing seat sipping whisky at dusk while jazz music plays as background noise.

I can’t tell you how enchanting the atmosphere of that garden was, with the beautiful, shining car, that music, those drinks that you could tell were wonderfully chilled, and that couple, gently swinging while the seat creaked. 

One day, after being slapped by Arthur, Louise gathers the courage to approach the Roolands and she asks them if they want a maid, a rare commodity in Léopoldville, as factory work pays better than domestic service. The Roolands employ Louise, but the dream life Louise saw from the outside doesn’t really exist. The house is a disorganized mess, and Mrs Rooland has a drinking problem. …

Louise, our somewhat unreliable narrator, tells the story in retrospect, in an intimate, near confessional style. As she digs into the Rooland household, managing to live-in and proving through her hard work that she’s indispensable, the spectre of the Roolands returning to America clouds any future fantasies.  Dard includes some foreshadowing, some intense, dramatic scenes of violent weather that match the narrative, and rather ironically, IMO, the American car (s) play a huge role in this tale of betrayal and revenge. To say more would spoil the tale for the next reader, but fans of the Pushkin Vertigo line should enjoy this. Of the three Dard novels released to date, The Wicked Go To Hell is my favourite.

Review copy

Translated by Daniel Seton

(original French title: Les Scélérats)



Filed under Dard Frédéric, Fiction

10 responses to “Crush: Frédéric Dard (1959)

  1. Oooh, I really like the sound of this! Envy of the perfect lifestyle, the gap between rich and poor… just my cup of tea.

  2. Yes it’s good. I didn’t see the last line coming. Dard effectively argues that if there’s a crack in a marriage and then a third party is allowed in, well, it’s catastrophic. A good quick read.

  3. I’m going to explore this side of Frédéric Dard.
    Léopoldville is a strange name for a French city. It’d be more a Belgian name. I wonder if it’s a little sign to Simenon.

    • I did a double take with the name. At first I thought it was the Congo… It made me think of that film–can’t remember the name of it now but it was about ‘the North’ and how weird it is.

  4. Sounds very dark and unnerving. Your description of the mood/atmosphere calls to mind Simenon’s The Widow, which I admired very much.

  5. This sounds so very good Guy, I like the idea of the ugly town atmosphere adding such a lot to this type of tale and that combined with a tale told in retrospect – it’s got to go on the wishlist!

  6. I read this late last year, and I liked it a lot while reading it but it didn’t stick in memory like Bird in a Cage did. Interestingly, when I checked one of your other posts and your rankings of Dard this came fairly low which felt fair. It’s not that it’s bad, it isn’t at all, it’s actually pretty good. It’s just not quite as punchy as Cage was.

    • It’s what happens when you read several books by one author. You develop a sub rating system within the rating system which ends up being fair and unfair at the same time.

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