Sunday, March 31, 2019

24. The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette

I can't remember where I got the recommendation for this book, but it was enough that I bought it new from Dark Carnival.  As always, reading a translated version of a french author always leaves me with a little protestant guilt.  I also suspect that some of the phrasing that seemed a bit awkward here would probably be more easily accepted in french.  His books are short so I may just make that one of my challenges, to find a nice used version of one of his untranslated novels and see how hard it is for me to read in la langue de Molière.

I guess Manchette has the reputation of reviving or at least revisiting the genre of pulp fiction and he is often compared to the french new wave filmmakers, though he came a bit later.  The Prone Gunman read pretty much like it could have been from the 50s or 60s.  Only some references to music (a Brian Ferry song) really reminded me that it wasn't the 60s.  He goes into some detail about clothes and interior decor and these all felt more 60s than 80s, but I think that is because the point he was making about the garish taste of working class people with money.  Also, some gun detail that I suspect was not anachronistic. Otherwise, it kind of felt similar to Queenpin, an ersatz pulp.

The other thing that reinforced that was the way Manchette describes the protagonist.  He never actually feels any emotions.  Only strange expressions on his face suggest to the reader that he might be having emotions.  It's very odd and I couldn't tell if this would go over better in translation or if this is a deliberate writing technique to somehow comment on the genre.

Here is the plot:  a professional killer decides he wants out.  Turns out he always had a plan to work for 10 years, go back to his small town and marry high high school sweetheart.  The gang wants him to do one last job and start making his life hell.  It gets quite nasty and I wasn't totally feeling it at first.  It gets more interesting when we learn about his backstory and he makes his play against the gang.  The ending is weird, though.

Not a bad book, but I need to read more of his work or somebody else's deeper understanding than mine to properly appreciate it, I suspect.


Gerard Saylor said...

I recall that Manchette was inspired in his writing after doing translations of books like Richard Stark's (Westlake) PARKER series. Maybe Manchette followed that style since Parker was always a bit of a automaton and Westlake would write about Parker's body and expressions rather than his emotions - when Parker had emotions.

I read the English translation of FATALE a few years ago and it was pretty decent. I enjoy short, concise novels like that.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Yes, I read up on him after I wrote my blog post and he did seem like a cool guy who did a lot for the genre in France.
The thing is that Parker, as you say, really had almost no emotions and when he did the expressions were simple and short. Here, the protagonist seems to be having fairly complex emotions and it is weird to read them described.