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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jean-Patrick Manchette

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To purchase Fatale

Title: Fatale
Author: Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Novel
Written: 1977 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 100 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Fatale - US
Fatale - UK
Fatale - Canada
Fatale - Canada (French)
Fatale - India
Fatale - France
Fatale - Deutschland
Fatale - Italia
  • French title: Fatale
  • Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
  • Afterword by Jean Echenoz
  • The UK edition (2015) also has a Foreword by David Peace

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Our Assessment:

B : solid nihilistic noir

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2011 Robert Polito
Freitag . 29/6/2001 Thomas Wörtche
New Statesman . 19/3/2015 Russell Williams
Publishers Weekly . 7/3/2011 .
Wall St. Journal . 14/5/2011 Sarah Weinman

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)n Donald Nicholson-Smith's laconic translation it features strains of both Patricia Highsmith and Alain Robbe-Grillet. (...) For Fatale, Manchette deep-freezes the "cool" style that noir writers probably learned from Hemingway -- his language has a tight, worked-over surface, so that every perception is immediate and concrete, and character is reduced to external action." - Robert Polito, Bookforum

  • "Aber auf eine Pointe hin ist der Roman nicht konzipiert. Seine vielfältigen Implikationen sind das Ergebnis von sprachlichen Operationen (was man eigentlich nur bei "Kriminalliteratur" immer wieder betonen muss). Manchette erzählt schnell, lässt uns aus dem Innenleben seiner Personen nur erfahren, was die uns in Dialogen mitteilen oder was sich in Action darstellt. Obwohl der Roman extrem blutig ist, pinselt Manchette die Standardsituationen der Gewalt nicht aus: "Sie beugte sich über ihn und tötete ihn rasch", heißt es einmal. Und damit ist auch Aimées Beziehung zu dem Opfer und dessen Stellung in der Hierarchie des Romans und gleichzeitig in der erzählten Gesellschaft geregelt. Die sozialen Koordinaten der Figuren werden durch die Handlung bewertet. Dieses anti-epische Prinzip hat Manchette radikal bis zum Ende getrieben." - Thomas Wörtche, Freitag

  • "It’s hard not to share Manchette’s glee in orchestrating the systematic destruction of la bourgeoisie. For all their politics, Manchette’s books are great, anarchic fun. His prose, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith and James Brook, is as precise as a sniper’s bullet, often cased in black irony." - Russell Williams, New Statesman

  • "Told in tight behaviorist language and laced with deadly black humor, this compact neo-noir follows Joubert as she steps much too far into her self-made career toward a showdown worthy of any action film." - Publishers Weekly

  • "If this bleak existential comedy seems far from political themes per se, it perhaps reflects Manchette's understanding of what his form could and couldn't do." - Sarah Weinman, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Yes, there is a femme in Fatale -- and, boy, is she ever fatale. She appears briefly as Mélanie Horst in the short opening chapter ("Well, this is a nice surprise" a man says at her unexpected appearance there, completely misreading the situation as she unslings her shotgun ...) but then transforms herself into 'Aimée Joubert'. It is clearly not the first of her transformations.
       Aimée heads for Bléville, an appropriately blah-sounding place (it is now apparently incorporated into Le Havre) -- though in his Afterword Jean Echenoz draws a "geographical connection" to Raymond Queneau ..... We've seen what she is capable of in the opening chapter, but once in Bléville she rather quietly scouts the place, taking up residence there and getting to know the locals. Of course only a certain kind of local:

It was the rich that interested her, and she went only where there was money.
       Soon enough she is moving in the right circles, laying the groundwork for whatever her plan eventually will be all along the way. She doesn't have a specific plan, initially, but she knows something will develop -- and something does, as Bléville turns out to be a veritable rat's nest of people with things to hide. Conveniently, there's also someone who has the dirt on everyone in town, the impoverished Baron Jules (who likes to show his contempt and make a scene where he can, but so far has avoided revealing all that he knows).
       Aimée has quite a bit of blood on her hands, but the place she's stumbled into is anything but a garden of innocence; indeed, she isn't even responsible for the first shocking deaths on site. Even she is dismayed by what happens, and by the moral corruption on display in Bléville -- but she gets a hold of herself quickly and also sees it as a great opportunity, and so she sets a plan into motion.
       The Baron is a key figure -- he has the dirt that can bring down the locals -- and Aimée needs his help, or needs to use him. She knows her power -- the Baron acknowledges:
"You are a terrifyingly negative and beautiful person"
       Unfortunately, she kind of takes a shine to the Baron, too -- the only halfway sympathetic character in the entire story (though he does take the whole 'piss on society'-attitude a bit too far (and literally)) -- and so when she puts her plan into action it doesn't go exactly as planned.
       'Bloodbath' doesn't nearly convey what it all comes to in the end ..... As one character notes -- way, way, way too late:
We've been idiots. She really is a killer. We failed to consider that.
       Manchette's vision is utterly nihilistic, his condemnation of society -- or at least of this class that controls local business and politics (which includes members of the media and the police) -- is complete and uncompromising. They also all get what they deserve (in a rather too simplistic, if admittedly somewhat satisfying outcome) in the end.
       Short -- less than a hundred pages -- if not exactly spare, Fatale builds up slowly (after that initial glimpse of what the woman calling herself Mélanie and then Aimée is capable of), before gathering steam and plunging straight into the abyss. Punctuated by ugly deaths (and that's not just the ones Aimée is responsible for), Fatale barely allows a glimpse of possible redemption: there where characters try, even if clumsily, they are immediately undermined (and, well, killed ...). In the end, it all moves a bit too fast (the only way to make all this horror bearable ?), Manchette's message less a slap in the face than a fist between the eyes, leaving the reader reeling.
       Too rushed and too underdeveloped in too many parts (and characters), Fatale is nevertheless a hell of a noir, its nihilism so devastating it takes your breath away.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 January 2011

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Fatale: Reviews: Jean-Patrick Manchette: Other books by Jean-Patrick Manchette under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Patrick Manchette lived 1942 to 1995.

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