Friday, September 9, 2011

Wendy's Review: Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo

The end of Total Chaos, the first book in Jean-Claude Izzo's trilogy, came too soon for me. I just shut it last night before bed, and already, I miss Marseilles.

Nancy reviewed the book back in July; her summary and praise of the story is spot-on. As you can read it yourself with just a click of the mouse, I'm going to skip summarizing the plot here.

Reading the novel is a delight. Izzo (via translator Howard Curtis) says the things I'm sure I've thought myself, or haven't thought yet but know to be true, like "Why was it so difficult to make friends once you were past forty? Was it because we didn't have dreams anymore, only regrets?" and "Days are only beautiful early in the morning. I should have remembered that. Dawn is merely an illusion that the world is beautiful. When the world opens its eyes, reality reasserts itself, and you're back with the same old shit."

The narrator, Fabio, is a man of big appetites. As is the case in many a good read, his great love has eluded him; the lesser loves are legion. He drinks so much that at the end of the book I found it hard to believe he could walk, much less face down bad guys. And, of course, there is food:
"Celeste made better aioli than anyone I knew, except Honorine. The cod was desalted just right, which is rare. Most people leave it to soak for too long, and give it only two soakings. It was best to soak it several times. Eight hours the first time, then three times two hours. It was also a good idea to poach it in simmering water, with fennel and pepper grains. Celeste also used a particular olive oil to give the aioli a 'lift.' It came from the Rossi mill, at Mouries. She used others in cooking and in salads. Oils from Jacques Barles of Eguilles, Henrii Bellon of Fontvieille, and Margier-Aubert of Auriol. Her salads always tasted different."
In the book blurbs, Izzo is justly praised over and again for his descriptions of Marseilles, one of the largest ports in Europe.  Marseilles is as important as any flesh-and-blood character to the action. The setting, in many ways, drives the plot.

Izzo writes in a way that sometimes left me disoriented. A chapter would begin in the middle of an action and then would circle back to a place I would call the beginning. Until I learned to trust the author, I worried that I wasn't reading as closely as I should. I wonder if the style is unique to Izzo or if it is conventional in French fiction. Also, I must agree with Nancy: in a few key scenes, coincidence plays too large of a role for my taste.

While I'm glad I read Total Chaos and will recommend it to lovers of crime fiction and Francophiles alike, I'm in no rush to read on in the trilogy.