Soleil Noir

Dispatching Baudelaire, by Ken Bruen. Translated into French by Marie Ploux and Catherine Cheval.

I decided to read Ken Bruen after Guy’s post about London Boulevard. I thought I would like his style as the quote “she was an expensive sixty” stayed with me. “Expensive sixty”: you can see everything in two simple words: the Botox, the make-up, the manicure, the pricey clothes, the constant diet, the hours spent at the hairdresser’s, the beautician’s… That’s exactly the kind of style I enjoy, short sentences made of odd and powerful association of words. I ordered Dispatching Baudelaire online, because of the “Baudelaire” in the title. So it was a blind date between this book and me. And what did I get? A CPA going wild in a plot involving Baudelaire and a lot of literary references. Wait, what’s the famous phrase again? Life’s little ironies.

So how does a CPA named Mike go wild according to Ken Bruen? He looses his pants. First, he rebels against suit pants and buy jeans. There’s a hilarious scene where the anti-hero asks where the crease is as he tries the jeans on. Second, he sleeps with an unbalanced girl he hardly knows. When the steady and dull Mike meets the firework Laura in a pub, he has a fatal crush on her. Going to her place, he meets there her crazy and dangerous father Harold. Harold is obsessed by Baudelaire, his relationships with women, his poetry and his vision of life. He is also extremely rich and powerful. Several little incidents make Mike understand that his life is now controlled by Harold who has connections everywhere. Mike comes to the conclusion he needs to kill Harold to be free again.

The English title has a double-meaning (1) as dispatching corresponds to all the quotes by Baudelaire scattered in the novel and also means “killing Harold”, the ultimate goal in Mike’s life.  This book is funny, full of crazy actions and rhythm. I had a great time reading it and the entertainment was welcome after La Cousine Bette and before resuming What Maisie Knew.  

The translation was wonderful, probably not faithful to the word as there were a lot of play-on-words in French. I suppose the two translators managed to transfer the equivalent witty sentences in French. Despite the French, I got lost on one page, when Mike talks about a sport with references I didn’t get. A few pages later, I eventually understood it was cricket. That’s the only flaw of the novel: I think Ken Bruen uses too many references to contemporary people or events as well as too many British innuendos sometimes impossible to get for foreigners. Fortunately there were relevant footnotes from the translators. I would have missed that if I had read the book in English. The matter “read in English or get a translation” remains really tricky, reading this one in French was better. The problem is that I know in which language I should read a book after reading it.  

(1) Special thanks to my personal slang-central, I would have missed the double meaning of the English title without him. 

PS: The title of this post Soleil Noir comes from Baudelaire. He invented this oxymoron to describe his black mistress Jeanne Duval, with whom he had a tempestuous and poisonous relationship. Click here to see her portrait by Manet. (Soleil Noir means Black Sun or Noir Sun if I take into account the two meanings of “noir” in French)

  1. April 4, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Really glad you liked this one, and it sounds as though you read it at the perfect time (the antidote). Oddly enough, I had just decided that it was time to read another Bruen.

    Yes, the expensive 60 is evocative. Even at this distance from the book, those two words remind me how much I enjoyed London Boulevard. I haven’t seen this one, so I’ll have to add it to the list.

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    • April 5, 2011 at 7:51 am

      Yes, you’re right, I read this at the perfect time, I needed the distraction. I’m currently writing the two posts about La Cousine Bette.
      And as a parent, I find What Maisie Knew difficult to read, emotionnally.

      I’ll wait for your next Bruen review.

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  2. April 5, 2011 at 6:15 am

    I was also intrigued by this author when I read Guy’s review. I still am. At first I forgot that you review an English book, because of Baudelaire. In a French novel any allusions to Baudelaire would be a no-go for me. Too trite and I do have problems with name dropping. But I can sort of forgive an Irish author for the Baudelaire.
    Did you see this site?
    http://www.kenbruen.com/index.php
    I can’t remember whether Guy mentioned having seen London Boulevard. Is it any good?

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    • April 5, 2011 at 7:57 am

      I’m fond of Baudelaire, it intrigued me as you say because Bruen isn’t a French writer. Here it’s just funny. A French writer might have done something pompous with it. (except if the writer is Pennac, then it could have been as crazy as Bruen.
      How do you say “déjanté” in English? That’s the proper adjective for this book.

      I think Guy wrote in his post that he read London Boulevard because of the film and the site was in his post too. Thanks for the link.

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  3. April 5, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I like Baudelaire a lot that’s why I find it often annoying what people do to him. Déjanté means crazy or bonkers, maybe manic, I would say.

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    • April 5, 2011 at 8:33 am

      OK, but “déjanté” doesn’t mean clinically crazy but more figurative. I think I’ve found the right word : loony. What do you think?

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      • April 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm

        Loony sounds too oldfashioned to me, but maybe I’m wrong. Crazy isn’t clinical, mad would be. Way-out or freaky might be closer. Wicked is something I hear as well for something like this book.
        Guy must help.

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  4. leroyhunter
    April 5, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Sounds like good fun alright…I must look at Guy’s post as well.

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    • April 5, 2011 at 12:18 pm

      Yes, have a look at Guy’s post, there are quotes that give a good idea of Bruen’s style. I couldn’t do it as I have the French translation.

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  5. April 5, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    The film isn’t out yet, but I’ll see it as soon as it’s on DVD. As you know I can’t resist the film-book connection.

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  6. April 5, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Nuts? Bonkers? Wacko? Certifiable?

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  7. April 6, 2011 at 8:22 am

    To all :
    Right: we have the following adjectives proposed to describe this book :
    – crazy
    – way-out
    – freaky
    – wicked
    – bonkers (2 votes so far)
    – manic
    – nuts
    – wacko
    – Certifiable

    Now someone else has to read it to choose the right one… knowing that the dictionary says that the translation of the phrase “Il est complètement déjanté” is “He’s off his trolley”

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    • April 6, 2011 at 12:49 pm

      PS : I was in a bookstore today and saw a book by Hugo Hamilton entitled “Déjanté”. The original title was “Headbanger”

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  8. April 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    It sounds like a good introduction to Bruen. He’s an author I knew of but wasn’t sure how to get into.

    “She was an expensive sixty.” That’s just a great line.

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    • April 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      I saw the price of Dispatching Baudelaire on Amazon US when I needed the cover for this post. You may prefer to start with London Boulevard

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