Pierre Lemaitre: Au Revoir Là-Haut
What is it: First published in 2013, the book Au Revoir Là-Haut won the Prix Goncourt, one of France’s most famous literary prizes, in the same year.
It has now been translated into English under the title The Great Swindle, which refers to the plans made by its protagonists as their lives change completely after the First World War.
It is available to buy here in the original French, or you can get hold of the English translation here.
Who is it by: The book’s by French crime writer Pierre Lemaitre, who became famous after writing a series of novels featuring the detective Camille Verhœven. After working as a literature teacher in France, Lemaitre now writes screenplays and novels full-time.
What is the main storyline:
Albert Maillard, a young bank clerk, finds himself on the frontline in the First World War after being conscripted to fight for France. Just over a week before the end of the war, he is almost killed when he is buried alive following a shell explosion.
Although Albert escapes death, his rescuer Édouard Péricourt is left horribly injured after saving him. Albert, who is naturally quiet and cautious, consequently forms an unlikely bond with the outgoing and reckless Édouard after their shared ordeal.
After the end of the war, France mourns its dead and gives its surviving soldiers a heroes’ welcome. Traumatised Albert and disfigured Édouard, however, are quickly ignored and forgotten.
Struggling to make a living for themselves and feeling resentment and anger for the way that they are treated, the pair come up with a daring plan.
If it works, it will guarantee them a huge fortune. If it fails, they face a life sentence in prison or worse.
Why you should read it: Pierre Lemaitre writes grippingly, but always with a feeling of sensitivity and sympathy for the main characters.
His background as a crime writer shows here, as he creates a riveting story with plenty of unexpected developments to catch the reader by surprise.
I thought it was extremely effective that he focussed specifically on the lives of two men, Albert and Édouard, as a way of looking back at the First World War.
It added a much-needed human side to a conflict with wide-ranging consequences not only for France as a country but also for the thousands of French families affected by the war.
Bonne lecture, mes choux ! 🙂
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If you’ve read Au Revoir Là-Haut or if it’s on your reading list, I’d love to hear from you!
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