Monday, May 28, 2012

An Accident In August, by Laurence Cosse

If you ever find yourself kidnapped and held in a tiny hotel room by a scary guy who says he just wants a ransom but may well be inclined to kill you before it’s all over, there’s a great tip that could save you in Laurence Cosse’s “An Accident In August.”

But you’ll have to read it to find out what it is. (Let’s hope no aspiring kidnappers also do so.)

Others have already explained the book’s premise: while a young woman named Lou is driving her Fiat Uno on her way home from work in Paris one night, she gets sideswiped in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel by the car carrying Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed. Of course, she has no idea of the identity of the other car’s passengers—not that it would necessarily have made any difference to her actions. Having no desire to be detained in an accident investigation, she continues home without stopping, thereby committing a serious crime.

Though the reader can partly understand (if not condone) why Lou makes this impulsive choice—she doesn’t want her life to change—the unique circumstances mean that the nice life she had is doomed, whether she stops or not, and whether she comes forward or not at any point afterward.

As Jennifer observed, this story of dissembling will make you feel all of the same panic, guilt, and remorse that’s going on in Lou’s head. Though I didn’t like Lou’s flight from the scene of the accident, up to a point I understood her panicked choice. When the extraordinary lengths to which she went to avoid discovery started hurting other people, though, I became very disappointed with her character.

But that’s part of what makes Cosse’s story of the disintegration of Lou's life so good: her character’s consistency, which she takes to extremes, makes her something of an enigma, and, as a result, this short novel is a great read. “An Accident In August” wouldn’t have the tension it has, and wouldn’t be nearly so interesting, if Lou made the same choices we readers might, or if she made the legally correct choices. And I wouldn't have felt such disappointment in Lou if she hadn't been three-dimensional. The book is a great choice for summer reading, perfect for the beach or a commute.