crime fiction to most people, and the usual response will be to mention Maigret
by Georges Simenon, or occasionally Fred Vargas. Sophie Loubiere is a new
French crime writer, and the Stone Boy is the first of her books to be
translated into English. The book won the Prix Lion Noir award in 2011.
The Stone Boy
is a psychological crime novel, and reminded me of Ruth Rendell's Barbara Vine
novels, where the emphasis is not on solving the crime, but on understanding
why the crime happened.
The novel centres on Elsa Preau, an elderly widow
who has spent a long time in a nursing home, and has now returned to live in
the family home. We are aware very quickly that things are not right with Elsa,
as she suffers from paranoia and is obsessional. She convinces herself that the
stray cats in her garden are emitting signals to the CIA through their collars,
and that her house is infested by mice whom no-one else can see.
She develops an interest in the family across the
road, the Desmoulins family and their three children, two boys and a girl which
quickly becomes a fixation. She becomes
very concerned about the welfare of the elder of the two boys, whom she calls
the stone boy, and attempts to get the authorities to intervene. They refuse
to, as they can find no evidence of the boy’s existence, other than a drawing
made by the girl. The authorities become convinced that she is mad. This is compounded
by the fact that twelve years ago, she became convinced that her grandson
Bastien was being ill-treated by his parents, resulting in Elsa poisoning
herself and him with a chocolate cake that she made.
The novel is divided into 3 sections. The first part
shows us Elsa's background, and how this shaped her current behaviour. The
second section is shown in the present day, and the final section is told from
the perspective of her son Martin. All of the chapters are very short,
interspersed with Elsa's notes and letters and this helps build up tension.
The main themes of the novel are about family, with
a particular emphasis on the interaction between parents and children, and also
how the past influences current and future behaviours. The other main theme in
the novel is about familial abuse, and how this is very hard to detect,
particularly when the other family members collude with what's going on.
The characters in the novel are well-thought out,
and fully developed. I found the characters of Elsa and Martin particularly compelling,
despite the fact that neither is particularly likeable.
I thought that this was a very good novel, and
enjoyed it a great deal. After reading I found that both the characters and the
plot have remained with me, and stayed fresh in my mind. I also found it
refreshing that the novel did not have graphic descriptions of the murders, or
descriptions of serial killers, as I find this is both boring and tedious. I
hope that this novel will be the first of many to be translated into English,
and urge people to read it.