- Rewriting Wrongs: French Crime Fiction and the Palimpsest ed. by Angela Kimyongür and Amy Wigelsworth
The notion of the palimpsest is particularly relevant to crime fiction, which, according to Todorov’s definition, is both a story of erasure and one of restoration, as the editors of this collection of essays point out in its Introduction. More generally, it is a concept that is particularly suited to ‘genre’ literature, which can be seen as rewritings of the same essential story. Beyond its overarching theme, the volume also offers an interesting snapshot of some of the themes that have preoccupied crime-fiction critics over the past twenty years or so: its relationship with more ‘scientific’ disciplines, such as history and sociology; its relationship with more ‘legitimate’ literature; and the difficulties inherent in establishing clear boundaries for a genre whose most basic tropes can be found in many non-crime-fiction texts, as previously demonstrated in relation to le nouveau roman (in particular by Simon Kemp, who also appears in this volume, in his book Defective Inspectors: Crime Fiction Pastiche in Late-Twentieth-Century French Literature (Oxford: Legenda, 2006)). Part One focuses on French crime fiction’s recurrent preoccupation with the murkier periods of French history. In it, Claire Gorrara pursues her investigation into crime fiction in the context of the Second World War and its aftermath, already prominent in her previous publications, this time with a more specific focus on the persecution of Jews. Sophie Watt examines novels by Didier Daeninckx and Philippe Claudel, as well as films by Tony Gatlif, to show how the fictional rewriting of history also serves as a denunciation of the manipulations of official history, and the way in which the process of remembrance is linked to a critique of contemporary society. Emma Bielecki examines the role played by Arsène Lupin in the construction of a French identity in the early twentieth century, while Christine Calvert’s chapter on Georges Simenon concentrates on private histories and the role of past events in characters’ lives. Part Two puts the spotlight on textual rewritings, including, in Andrew Watts’s chapter, television adaptations of Balzac. Alistair Rolls offers a chapter on the intertextual nature of two of Léo Malet’s Nestor Burma novels, while Adrienne Angelo’s piece on Camille Laurens already hints at the subject of Part Three. In this final part, which is entitled ‘Imitation, Parody, Metafiction’, two of the chapters focus on the use made by Sophie Calle, Laurens, and Amélie Nothomb (Elise Hugueny-Léger) and Georges Perec (Kemp) of some of the classic tropes of crime fiction. Conversely, Ellen Carter analyses crime writer Caryl Férey’s borrowings from Maori and Tahitian authors. The last chapter (by Amy Wigelsworth) offers a particularly fitting conclusion to the collection, bringing together issues of conformity to a genre and the innovative rewritings the category permits, while neatly incorporating the notion of the criminal investigation as a literary palimpsest in [End Page 421] Noël Simsolo’s text about a serial killer who finds his inspiration in Malet’s Les Nouveaux Mystères de Paris. Altogether this is a fascinating and varied collection highlighting the fluidity of the genre, as well as its continued relevance as a form of social and literary commentary.