Jérôme Leroy, trans by Graham Roberts
Corylus Books, 1 July 2021
Available as: e
Source: advance copy provided by the publisher
I'm grateful to Corylus Books for an advance copy of Little Rebel to consider for review, and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
It's said you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I think the magnificently dark cover for Little Rebel captures its mood perfectly.
Who, exactly, is to blame for a tragedy, an outrage? The terrorist who pulls the trigger? Those who support, who radicalise, who encourage? Culture warriors who see an opportunity to gain by setting up the Other as threatening, dangerous? Bystanders who don't really care but just want to get on with their complicated lives and don't read the signs? All of us for our prejudices and our little, thoughtless slights?
Leroy's novella sets up all these, and more, in an unnamed port city in Western France. It's a tense place, ruled over by a far-Right administration which has installed cronies in the Police ('Sergeant Richard Garcia, who sees himself these days as a defender of the West against the Great Replacement') yet also with a radical Islamic faction and plenty of simply disaffected youth. Add to that Alizé Lavaux, a jaded author of Young Adult fiction, so very hungover and so very desperate for a smoke, Flavien Dubourg, a twenty seven year old teacher who's still a virgin but fantasises about Alizé, the elusive Little Rebel, a bartender who's about to have a Very Bad Night, and... well, you get a powerful mix.
One of the things I loved about this book was the way it frankly portrays life as messy, as knotted. Leroy is completely cold-blooded - he'll introduce somebody sympathetically and then have them die with little warning. (Or, sometimes, the other way round). Then he'll zoom forward ten, twenty years and show the consequences, what became of the survivors. Both victims and perpetrators are allowed to have rich, complicated, perplexing lives - lives extending into the lives of others, and reflected back in them. It's quite a feat to do that at all, let along in such a short book (I think it took me an hour to read Little Rebel).
There is also the terse, slightly noir-ish tenor to the book, leavened as it by a sense of the absurd and the fatalistic: this is what's going to happen, what can you do? That's accentuated by, as I said, the book's bouncing forward to tell us what eventually happens or, in the authorial voice, assuring the reader that, no, character X won't survive and their story was only there to make a point - about life, about people, about that unnamed city.
It is, as I have said, a short read, but one with some vividly drawn characters and which gives an equally vivid picture of a particular time and place. And it's shot through with dark humour. I'd recommend.
You can buy Little Rebel from Amazon here. To find out more about the book, see the stops on the tour poster below.