The Eskimo Solution by Pascal Garnier is a crime novel that finds reality and fiction overlapping for an author's stay in Normandy.
Pascal Garnier (1949-2010) has become one of my favorite writers—not just of noir fiction, but among all scribes whose work I’ve read, regardless of genre or style. A few years back, a friend with similar reading tastes to mine alerted me to Gallic Books’ run of new translations of the Frenchman’s edgy crime stories. I’ve been hopelessly hooked since. When Gallic releases a new English version of one of the books, I devour it like it’s a favorite food item that I’ve managed to get my hands and mouth on after being starved for a stretch of time. As was the case with Gallic’s latest translation of Garnier’s noir work, The Eskimo Solution.
I have written about Garnier for this site more than once already, so there is no need for me to go into a lengthy overview of who he was as a person or writer in this post. If you care to, you can read my overview of him and/or my reviews of a few of the other individual novels. In short, Garnier was a guy who started writing (crime novels, children's books, and short stories) relatively late in his too-brief life and whom myself and others have compared to Georges Simenon.
There are things about The Eskimo Solution (which was published in its original French in 2006) that make it similar to the eight other Garnier works Gallic has brought out in English so far. It’s brief and could easily be read in one sitting, if a person had the inclination and a few hours’ time. It’s both welcoming and disturbing—a story that is easy to get into and stay with, yet one that also messes with your head. It’s bleak in a knowing and darkly humorous way. It’s about seemingly “normal” people who go off the rails. It’s filled with unexpected, brain-twisting sentences and passages that will make you want to read them a few times over, maybe set the book down and reflect on them for a bit before reading on. Strokes like these:
She lives off her own death, self-sufficient.
Louis had ordered the same food as Richard. To eat like him was to start eating him.
I enjoy the moment all the more for knowing I’ll regret it bitterly tomorrow morning.
There is, however, one major facet of The Eskimo Solution that sets it apart from the other Garnier novels I’ve read: it’s done in dual perspectives. There’s a story, and then a story that has the writer of the first story telling you about that story and himself. Did you get all that? So you’re reading a fictional tale, and there are times when the fictional writer of that tale steps in and talks about the writing of it and about his life in general. And then the book goes back to the first story.
If you’re feeling at all confused, I can tell you that sometimes when I was reading the book, I momentarily forgot, or lost track of, whether I was reading the novel or the novel inside the novel. I didn’t particularly care, however, because both parts of the book are well written and compelling.
The story—the one the writer you get to know is working on—is about a 40-ish ne’er-do-well guy named Louis. At the onset of the tale, Louis is a man who isn’t exactly evil, but who isn’t much good, to himself or anyone else. He hasn’t got much money and he owes several people, and (at an age where this shouldn’t be happening anymore) he is still hitting his parents up for dough all the time. His love life is going nowhere; he’s a father who’s never had any kind of connection to his child; he’s not much of a friend to his friends…You can’t wait to meet him, right?
But if all of that about his character isn’t bad enough, what if I tell you that he abruptly decides to kill his parents for the inheritance this will bring him? And that this act triggers a chain of extreme behaviors in the guy? I’ll let readers new to the book learn all about what Louis gets up to after offing his mama and papa.
Then, there’s the story inside the story—that of the author of the Louis yarn. He is a man who must have been, at least partly, an autobiographical creation of Garnier’s, as he is a writer of children’s books who has decided to try his hand at penning a crime novel. The author convinces his reluctant editor to float him advance for this new kind of literary effort, and he uses the money to go off to the Normandy coast with his typewriter to get it done.
The writer is a lazy kind of fella, one who could be content to do nothing except daydream on the beach, people-watch, and view his favorite detective show on TV. But he’s got this book he needs to write, the one about Louis. And he’s got other concerns forced on him, such as that of his girlfriend’s 16-year old daughter, who is hanging around him all the time while her mother is occupied elsewhere. The teenager appears to be on a mission to seduce the writer, who is old enough to be her father in addition to being her mother’s beau. And then, there’s the matter of some of the elements of his Louis story starting to transfer into his actual life. Yow.
In terms of quality, I rate The Eskimo Solution as being middle-to-bottom among the Garnier novels I’ve read. But even if I don’t think it’s his very best work, I still rate it highly in general. If it was the first book I’d read by him, I’d be intrigued and would want to read more of his stuff. If you are new to his noir fiction, I suggest starting with The A26 or The Panda Theory. If you like those, take in the rest and don’t take a pass on The Eskimo Solution.
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Brian Greene writes short stories, personal essays, and reviews and articles of/on books, music, and film. His work has appeared in 25+ publications since 2008. His pieces on crime fiction have also been published by Noir Originals, Crime Time, Paperback Parade, The Life Sentence, Stark House Press, and Mulholland Books. Brian lives in Durham, North Carolina.