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Red Haze, by Christian Gailly

Translated from the French by Brian Evenson and David Beus

"One day unlike the others he'll run into a husband worse than the others, he'll run into trouble. I often thought this. Well, I was wrong, it was a woman he ran into, a woman worse than the others, here's what happened."

What happened is the shocking tale told deftly by the brilliant French minimalist Christian Gailly in Red Haze. It is a story at once spare and mysteriously complex, complicated by the ever odder perspective of the narrator as the details accumulate. Lucien, the narrator's friend, is a rake, a womanizer who womanizes once too often and loses his offending member to his latest conquest. As the narrator's interest in the mutilated man and he vengeful woman grows to an obsession, Red Haze becomes an unsettling story of how closely intertwined love and hatred, passion and cruelty can be.

"After invoking Nabokov in an epigraph, Gailly (The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt) introduces a thoroughly unsympathetic, Humbert-like narrator in this clever little novel about obsession and envy. Recently cured stutterer and unemployed biologist SylvĖre Fonda commiserates with Lucien ("not my friend, just an experiment in hatred"), a Lovelace-like figure who has had his penis bitten off by Rebecca Lodge moments after he raped and threatened to kill her. Too diminished and depressed to do anything himself, Lucien convinces SylvĖre to travel to Denmark, find Rebecca and speak with her on his behalf; SylvĖre does go, but out of curiosity and spite. Once there, however, SylvĖre finds himself falling in love with the utterly unavailable Rebecca, a self-assured widow of a handsome naval officer. The third of Gailly's 10 novels to be published in English, this mordant book won France's Prix France Culture. It shares Nabokov's love of doubling, sly clues and base emotions and motivations, but doesn't quite manage his delicious despicability; even after a final, deadly confrontation with Lucien, SylvĖre remains a bundle of repetitive affects and affectations rather than a full-blown character."
           —Publisher's Weekly