Detective novels were the first modern literary form to cross en masse from wide popular readership in Europe to a pop readership in Arabic:
Guez is, like Faïza Guène, a child-prodigy who brings the gaze of the young Algerian-French to the page. His previous two books won the 2013 SNCF du Polar and 2012 Plume Libre prizes.
And while Eyes Full of Empty is third in a series, there’s no reason for the reader to feel she’s come late to the converstion. As with any flat-out noir, we have gorgeous (sometimes treacherous) women, men with big desires, and loads of alcohol (and drugs). To narrate our fast-paced, twisty-turny journey in the world of crime, we have a wonderfully sympathetic small-time Algerian-French criminal who’s a fist-for-hire with a side of investigation. Guez’s noir follows in the gentleman-thief tradition: our narrator, Idir, self-consciously tips his hat to Arsène Lupin.
It has all the ingredients of a fun read, and Guez doesn’t disappoint. There is no supra-literary interrogation of form, no turning of the novel on its head, a la Khadra. This is a straightforward, canny, page-turning noir, and Gauvin has re-crafted the flat, droll sentences the genre gives us to expect.
Yet it’s also more than a formula-driven detective novel: the revelations are a surprise (but not, of course, a Surprise), there is some social commentary, and Idir has interesting flaws and a compelling relationship with his father. The women in his family, however, are a disappointment.
If the novel has a weak spot, it’s this: The obligatory grandmother, who has obligatory cultural strength, and is an obligatory matriarchic, does nothing for us. The novel should either make some acknowledgement of its omission (Algerian women) or, I suppose, not omit them.
Still, our protagonist (Idir) is — despite the role he plays — also a feminine character, and the reader’s sympathy for him is a strong part of our drive through the action. In sum: Guez’s novel is enjoyable, memorable, and worth your time.
Guez will also be in the US touring with the novel:
According to Unnamed Press: Jérémie will be at Skylight Books in Los Angeles on 11/6 and at the Book Passage in Corte Madera on 11/13. You can find out more at the Unnamed Press events page.
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