Three Days And A Life by Pierre Lemaitre

The Blurb On The Back:

Antoine is twelve years old.  His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother in Beauval, a small backwater town surrounded by forests, where everyone knows everyone’s business, and nothing much ever happens.  But in the last days of 1999, a series of events unfolds, culminating in the socking vanishing without trace of a young child.  The adults of the town are at a loss to explain the disappearance, but for Antoine, it all begins with the violent death of his neighbour’s dog.  From that one brutal act, his fate and the fate of his neighbour’s six year old son are bound forever.

In the years following Rémi’s disappearance, Antoine wrestles with the role his actions played.  As a seemingly inescapable net begins to tighten, breaking free from the suffocating environs of Beauval becomes a gnawing obsession.  But how far does he have to run, and how long will it take before his past catches up with him again? 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s the run up to Christmas, 1999.  12-year-old Antoine lives with his mum in the small French town of Beauval.  Nothing much has ever happened in Beauval but then 6-year-old Rémi Desmedt disappears.  Rémi and his family lived next door to Antoine and both Rémi and his dog, Ulysses, used to run about after Antoine when he played in the nearby forest (although Antoine preferred Ulysses to Rémi, playing with him as if he was his own).

While the rest of the town searches and wails and wonders what’s happened to Rémi, Antoine knows exactly what happened and he knows that it started when Ulysses was violently killed and in the years that follow, he does everything he can to escape what happened and the town he grew up in but there are something things that you can never really run away from …

Pierre Lemaitre’s standalone crime novel (translated from French by Frank Wynne) is a strangely unfulfilling affair that focuses on the nature and effects of guilt and internal rather than external consequences and while the first half is strong, I found the Antoine of the second half to be a slightly underdrawn and unsympathetic protagonist and his behaviour didn’t ring true which ultimately made this just an okay read.

I really enjoyed young Antoine’s story, with Lemaitre ratchetting up the tension as he sets out the events leading up to Rémi’s disappearance and his reaction to the aftermath.  The description of small town life, the reaction of the media and the grief of Rémi’s family is all sensitively written and I believed in Antoine’s guilt and what that does to him.

Unfortunately the Antoine in the second half is a much more shallow beast and other than his desire to escape Beauval, there’s very little to him.  His relationship with the one-dimensional Laura didn’t convince and his bizarre relationship with the similarly one-dimensional Émilie seemed to exist only to take the plot in a predictable direction.  I also felt the loss of the subtle push/pull relationship with his mother and it’s aggravated by a low key ending that really didn’t work for me and ultimately left me feeling quite empty and uncaring about Antoine and his fate.  However although this book didn’t really work for me, I would definitely check out Lemaitre’s other work.

THREE DAYS AND A LIFE was released in the United Kingdom on 13th July 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC of this book.

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