When it comes to British or American writers, I try to read as much as possible in the original language. Sometimes I settle for the translation, but I always wonder how faithful it is in tone and style. That’s what happened with this book by Emily St. John Mandel.
After falling in love with Station Eleven, and again with The Glass Hotel last year, one of my bookish resolutions was to read more of her books. But Kindle versions were rather expensive, no second-hand book available from my trusted source and no paperback in new versions? My library, on the other hand, has perfectly available copies of most of her books in French… So, I have read “On ne joue pas avec la mort” (One shouldn’t play with death), aka The Singer’s Gun. Weird title choice, right? That’s where my nagging doubts kicked in. Did I miss out on something? I suspect I did, because regardless of the skills of the translator, I couldn’t find the usual dashes of brilliance of the writer’s style, and I missed it.
Still, the story and characters were quite good. It’s a thriller, and a mystery, and a family drama, and a character study all tied together. Here the main character is Anton Walker, whom we first meet alone on an Italian island. He is a newlywed but his wife has left him. He doesn’t seem to have a job. How he came and what he’s doing there will take 200 pages to clarify, but nothing is as it first appears. And as soon as you have peeled off one layer of explanations (often half truths) then another layer starts to appear. Any other way of telling the story would have made me despise or hate Anton, but on the contrary I feel his tragedy and his lack of options and bad decisions. He is weak, but so human.
It is of course a standalone novel, but I can find echos of other books by St. John Mandel. A chorus of people whose fate is intertwined in complex ways. People who lie for good reasons (or not), the get-rich-fast scams (The Glass Hotel), flawed relatives, people who start over and invent a new identity for themselves some place else…
Just like the other books it’s very hard to sum up and to do it justice in a blog post. It’s an experience you have to get immersed in. And it confirmed me in my wish to read all of Emily St John Mandel’s books!