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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Godmother

Hannelore Cayre

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To purchase The Godmother

Title: The Godmother
Author: Hannelore Cayre
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 184 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Godmother - US
The Godmother - UK
The Godmother - Canada
La daronne - Canada
La daronne - France
Die Alte - Deutschland
La bugiarda - Italia
La madrina - España
  • A Crime Novel
  • French title: La daronne
  • Translated by Stephanie Smee
  • The Godmother was made into a film in 2020, regrettably titled Mama Weed for the American market, directed by Jean-Paul Salomé and starring Isabelle Huppert

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good, quick fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allg. Zeitung . 6/1/2020 Hannes Hintermeier
The Guardian . 18/10/2019 Laura Wilson
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/10/2019 Ivy Pochoda
Le Temps . 31/3/2017 Mireille Descombes

  From the Reviews:
  • "Breaking Bad meets Weeds, with a French suburban twist. (...) Acerbic and witty, casting a sharp eye on both failing social systems and the fruitless “war on drugs”, Patience is one of the standout characters in this year’s crime fiction crop, and you’ll be rooting for her all the way." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Cayre’s middle-aged protagonist delivers her darkly comic adventure in the underworld with sardonic intelligence. (...) Her narration is peppered with astute observations and authoritative takedowns, creating a curious distance between herself and her activities; she’s a woman who gets the job done while doing what she must to survive. There is, however, more to The Godmother than a simple caper. (...) Patience’s irresistible narration, never didactic, moves at an impressive clip as the reader roots all the while for the criminal -- a woman in a man’s world, battling race, age and gender while cheerfully ignoring ethics." - Ivy Pochoda, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Atypiques, déjantés, parfois un peu brouillons, ses premiers livres, dont Commis d’office (Prix polar derrière les murs 2005) et Toiles de maîtres, mettaient en scène Christophe Leibowitz, un avocat peu reluisant à la morale élastique. Avec La Daronne, elle monte d’un cran dans l’originalité et la maîtrise. Procédant par petites touches et tout en jouant du flash-back, elle donne la parole -- et son sens de l’ironie -- à Patience Portefeux, 53 ans, traductrice-interprète judiciaire de l’arabe, cheveux longs et entièrement blancs." - Mireille Descombes, Le Temps

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:

       The Godmother is narrated by Patience Portefeux. Widowed when she was twenty-seven and left with two young children, she has struggled ever since; now fifty-three, her hair completely white, she has long worked as a court interpreter, translating from the Arabic (in which she does hold a doctorate). With most of her salary going to the nursing home upkeep of a mother whose mind and body barely function any longer, she struggles greatly -- and doesn't have much of a future to look forward to, as a: "woman with no pension, no social security" (as, in what seems one of the more implausible elements of the book, she is: "paid under the table by the government department employing me").
       Patience admits, in the novel's opening sentence, that: "My parents were crooks". Having lost everything -- "Nothing was left of my father's French Tunisia, nothing of my mother's Jewish Vienna" -- they put down roots: "in the no-man's land between a motorway and a forest, where they built the house in which I was raised, grandiosely named The Estate". The father's shady enterprise brought in a lot of money -- which they only dared spend on lavish vacations abroad, so as not to attract the notice of the authorities -- and he was also quick to take action when any intruders ventured onto his property, The Estate eventually littered with the bodies he buried there. After his death, Patience's mother burned through the money until nothing was left and she became her daughter's burden; Patience herself hasn't lived in material comfort since the few happy years of her marriage.
       A reliable worker, she at least reached the stage in her career that she is able to get the kind of assignments she prefers, able: "to steer clear of interpreting in court or in interrogations, and concentrate instead on translating phone-taps for the drug and organized crime squads".
       She has no illusions about her work:

     From the first day of my professional life, I had understood that there was no logical point to my work.
     Fourteen million cannabis users in France and 800,000 growers living off that crop in Morocco. The two countries are friendly, and yet those kids whose haggling I listened to all day long were serving heavy prison sentences for having sold their hash to the kids of the cops who were prosecuting them and of the judges who were sentencing them, not to mention all the lawyers who were defending them.
       Patience befriends one of the nurses at her mother's home -- and gives her a heads-up when she learns that the police are onto a big delivery her son is set to make, giving him time to hide the stuff just before they are set to nab him. Things still don't go particularly well, but there's a huge pile of top-grade marijuana out there for the taking -- and Patience decides she might as well take advantage of the situation, reckoning that with the information she can piece together from all the tapped phone conversations she listens to she can safely arrange to unload the stuff -- making a tidy sum while she's at it.
       The fact that her fiancé, Philip is a cop -- and soon promoted to Commander of a local drug squad -- is just one of the things that makes for additional complications, but Patience navigates all of these with fairly casual ease.
       The Godmother isn't so much a caper story or crime thriller as a portrait of a woman with an unusual -- even extraordinary -- background, taking advantage of a system and society that isn't particularly fair. Justice and injustice are often largely arbitrary -- so, for example, Patience (and others) being stuck with parents in need of expensive care -- and when the opportunity arises to benefit from a situation, Patience takes full advantage.
       Her parents were hardly paragons, and as she tells her story Patience fills in details from her unusual childhood -- including then the story of her nanny, the man who basically raised her (and taught her Arabic). Patience is no innocent; she's seen and heard too much, from earliest childhood on, and hence understands, all too well, how the world works; by the end, she is also at least indirectly responsible for a considerable amount of carnage.
       It makes for a fun and fast little not-quite-morality tale, quickly and easily told, with some amusing twists. A sense of humor, and Patience's largely unperturbable manner -- along with a few soft spots, to ensure the character remains sympathetic, even at her most hard-nosed -- make for an appealing tale. It helps that Cayre only very occasionally goes into much detail, especially about the criminal activity, relating much of it (like her father's) in more or less summary form -- adding to the overall impression throughout, that the world is a messed up place and one might as well muddle through as best one can to one's own advantage.
       Skipping along as it does, The Godmother may seem a bit thin in its presentation, certainly by American crime fiction standards, but the almost sketch-like quality works to good effect here, and there's certainly enough substance to it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 January 2022

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The Godmother: Reviews: Mama Weed - the movie: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Hannelore Cayre was born in 1963.

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© 2022 the complete review

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