French writer Thierry Jonquet explores social ills in iconoclastic crime fiction
Thierry Jonquet, a likeable Frenchman in his 50s, is among the community of writers whose work is in the spectrum of what the French call «noir.» Jonquet has a ready laugh and a beard straight out of May 1968. He doesn’t really want to talk about schools and trends in crime fiction, but, due to yet another journalist’s fixations, he relents for this interview. Seated comfortably in the sunlit terrace of the Benaki Museum, with his back to the green swath of the National Gardens, he is shaded from the sun by an umbrella. He looks as if he is sitting in a French bistro on a rainy day sipping a beaujolais instead of in the tiring, sweltering Athenian heat with a cold fruit juice. A true Frenchman, Jonquet is known for his political and social novels, which are on the fringe of the noir genre. Two of his books have come out in Greece from Kastaniotis: «Moloch,» translated by G. Stingos and «Mygali i dilitiriodis arachni» («Mygali the Poisonous Spider»), translated by Marina Metzou. Also due to come out in Greek is «Mon vieux,» his latest novel, which is deeply critical of the values of French society. «You may remember the heat wave that hit France in 2003,» Jonquet says. «Thousands of elderly people died and a huge social problem was revealed.» The issues of isolation and lack of social solidarity led Jonquet to take his own fiction into the heart of society. «The climate changed in the 1970s when Jean-Patrick Manchet started putting politics into crime fiction. It was obviously a legacy of 1968, but it was also in response to readers’ need to read a straightforward story with meaning and messages. People were tiring of the postwar Nouvea Roman and inward-looking literature.» Is that how Jonquet explains the French mania for crime fiction, which started long ago, as the famed Serie Noire collection bears witness? «Serie Noire has changed, you know,» he says sadly. «They are published as pocket books and are no longer numbered.» He collects old titles. When he was young he used to borrow books from the library «but not crime fiction.» When he grew up he worked in a old people’s home. It suits him. He has the manner of someone with a social conscience. He felt the the need to tell the story of the harsh reality he encountered in the home and that was more or less how he started writing. Now he is independent. He doesn’t follow any particular ideology. He is concerned about the failings of society. He still gets surprised. He writes with a purpose and enjoys the unprecedented sense of being himself without having to explain anything. Let people think what they like.