Making a U-turn.
Publisher: Pushkin Press
First Published: 1961; 2nd June 2016 in English
Date Reviewed: 3rd June 2016
Original language: French
Original title: Le Monte-charge (The Elevator)
Translated by: David Bellos
Albert has just returned home. His mother has died and after staying away for several years he’s returned without his girlfriend, who has also died. Coming to terms with the changes, he decides to visit the expensive restaurant he’d always wished he could visit as a child. There at a table nearby are a young girl and her mother. The mother is more than happy for him to chat to her daughter and seems interested in him, but there’s something about the woman and he just can’t put his finger on it.
Bird In A Cage is a slick novella that looks at a probable murder from the point of view of a potential conspirator. It’s a book that gets straight to the point and has no room for deviations in its storyline.
How reliable is Albert? That is a question and a half – from the start you get the feeling he can’t be trusted, but is that because of your knowledge of this genre or is it down to the character himself? For that matter how reliable is anyone here? Dard deals with few characters, a grand total of four specific ones, in fact, so there’s lots of room for suspicion. He holds your attention. Indeed due to the shortness of the tale, its pithy structure and overall atmosphere, you’re likely to finish this book within a couple of hours. Perhaps it was created this way, perhaps not, but Dard’s conciseness and detailing means you won’t feel the need to put the book down and that’s really the best way to read it.
A smidgen of mystery drips from the text – is what Albert’s seeing true? Depending on what aspect of the book is taking your fancy at any given moment you may well gain a suspicion as to what’s happening but if you do it will be only a half-formed idea. If you have spotted the clue you may well feel the age of the book more than a reader who hasn’t. This is to say the book is slightly outdated due to its atmosphere and the obvious now-historical nature of it, but it’s just so different and succinct that the age has only a minor impact. Unlike the work of Georges Simenon, who Dard has been compared to (and they knew each other), Bird In A Cage is written in such a way that it’ll likely entertain a wider age range.
The ending is deliciously ambiguous; there’s some wrapping up of the story but it’s only that which directly affects Albert – the rest is left unfinished in a literal way (it hasn’t happened yet). In saying this I’m reflecting on the way the story is told as a whole – whilst the plot is important, it’s Albert’s role in it all that is key, and the ending is one that, if you hadn’t already been doing a lot of thinking, will make you want to interact with the text. It brings a whole different flavour to the book, mixing two opposing tastes in one dish to create something that sounds unworkable but is really a triumph.
Enough with the food analogies. Bird In A Cage is a very solid, good book.
I received this book for review from the publisher.
June 24, 2016, 6:02 am
Original title is not Puisque Les Oiseaux Meurent (Because Birds Die) but Le monte-charge
June 24, 2016, 12:16 pm
Jacques, thank you for that. I couldn’t find any references that showed the definite translation, had to look at a list and it seemed most likely. I’ll get to changing it :)
June 24, 2016, 12:32 pm
Ooh this sounds like a book with a bit of a difference. I’ll be sure to keep a look out for it.
June 25, 2016, 10:04 am
I love books with ambiguous endings and unreliable narrators so having them both in one book sounds wonderful.
June 28, 2016, 1:25 pm
This one sounds like fun for summer!