‘The Wide World’: Pierre Lemaître and the dark corners of History

It has often been said that Pierre Lemaitre (Paris, 1951) is a craftsman of the trade of telling stories. With the wide world Lemaître has passed into the category of an admirable architect, in a display of literary construction: the foundations are well established in historical reality, but the design of the building is full of imagination and brimming with intrigue. This polyphonic chronicle of the pathetic, greedy, cruel and hypocritical world of the years after World War II takes place between Beirut, Saigon and Paris.

Lemaître does not deny his admiration for alexander dumas and by other popular authors of the past. To build his “human comedy” he has created a sweeping serial, fusing the journalistic story, the plot of exotic adventures, the war genre, political intrigue and the novel of characters. The protagonists of the wide world They are the Pelletiers, a lineage accompanied by shadows, scams and false appearances.
Lemaître, winner of the Goncourt 2013 with see you up therestarted late, when he was fifty, with the detective novel irene (2006), and later evolved into the historical novel, selling millions of copies around the world.

In reality, French seeks the dark corners of history, “blind angles” he says, to place vulgar characters in the flow of events. Coincides with hitchcock in the idea of ​​portraying ordinary people to whom extraordinary things happen. In this case, for the members of the Pelletier family, History passes over them.

Louis and Angèle Pelletier have been the prosperous owners of soap factories in Beirut since 1920. The fate of their three sons and one daughter focuses on the year in which the author stops: 1948. Jean, the eldest son, the most mediocre , married to the ambitious Geneviève, will escape to Paris and from the beginning we will know that the fat man who looks like an innocent idiot is a complexed murderer of women. François settles in Paris, lying to his parents, to become a journalist. Thrill-hungry Helene travels to Country to get into all sorts of trouble.

But it is Étienne, handsome and homosexual, the central axis of the novel. Étienne has gone to Saigon, in French Indochina, in the midst of France’s armed conflict against the communist Viet Minh, to discover the whereabouts of his lover, a Belgian legionnaire who has stopped writing to him. Despite the fact that it seems like a made-up story, Lemaître has his character, Étienne, stick his nose in the piastre traffic between Saigon and Paris, a real financial and political scandal that rocked France in the 1940s.

Lemaître raises an overwhelming serial, fusing the plot of exotic adventures, the war genre, political intrigue…

The consequences for Étienne, who finds out that his lover has been tortured and killed by the guerrillas, will be catastrophic. The most interesting of the Pelletiers will discover the boiling nights of Saigon, the dealings of the sects, the economic corruption back and forth between France and Indochina, and the dangerous dream
of opium.

The novel talks about all this, but twists the ingredients from melodrama to caricature of the most vile characters. The murder of an actress in a Paris cinema will give rise to another investigation carried out by François Pelletier. And as if all this were not enough, what is going to be revealed about Mr. Pelletier senior will leave the public stunned.

None of the Pelletiers is clean wheat. One of them, a psychopathic serial killer; the mother, a brilliant final avenger; and yet we are not invited as readers to exercise moral condemnation. Nor are they acquitted by the author, they are there, in the wide world, in that less glorious post-war than what was said, representing a relentless anthill where survival meant brutal ferocity.

‘The Wide World’: Pierre Lemaître and the dark corners of History