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Monsieur Le Commandant by Romain Slocombe

Monsieur Le Commandant

by Romain Slocombe

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The best novel I have read this year, and at times, not easy reading. Paul-Jean Husson is a writer, a member of the Academie Francaise, and a believer in the values of "Old France", a France that has long since disappeared. He is also an anti Semite - but an anti semite based not on race hatred per se, but as he sees it, based on on what he sees as sound intellectual analysis even if he can't help referring to Jews - other than those he personally knows of course - as kikes, hooknoses, and Israelites. His world starts to come apart as he feels increasingly attracted to, and then obsessive about, his daughter in law Ilse, a former German actress. As the attraction becomes deeper he is torn between his need to protect her (in order to exploit her later) and his anti semitic views and the commitment to the Vichy regime.

In the end of course the reality of his intellectual choices are brought into the open in a horrible scene involving the French Gestapo, possible resistance operatives, and a deserted cottage. But the horror of this scene does not change his views, and lead to an astounding betrayal

This is a wonderful book. In modern literature, the French narrative of the war has focused on the Resistance. Slocombe has no time for this - of course there were many brave Resistance fighters but there were an awful lot of others who were either "11th hour resisters" or truly believed that collaboration with Germany represented the best hope for a revived France. It is this group that Slocombe mercilessly pursues. His book is not subtle but it feels honest and true.

If you read nothing else this year, read this. Remarkable ( )
  Opinionated | Jun 18, 2014 |
Engagingly and credibly written, Monsieur Le Commandant nevertheless makes for uncomfortable reading at times. Squirming at Husson’s stomach-churning racist and antisemitic slurs I left this novel not, as some might think, with a bad taste in my mouth, but with the very real feeling that I had confronted a deeply unsavoury aspect of France’s 17675247past and come out all the better for it. Despite the essential contradiction of Husson’s feelings for his daughter-in-law that even his deep-rooted antisemitism inexplicably cannot obliterate, this is a brave book, all the braver considering idiots out there that could potentially mistake Husson’s strong views for the author’s own. Flabbergasted that the larger events chronicled happened within living memory, this novel reminds us, not so gently, that many people in this life are, essentially, not very nice and that entire nations very close to home have history to be ashamed of which must be approached head-on. Atrocities were committed by men both large and small during the second World War and it is literature such as this, designed for shock and awe, that will ensure that we never, ever forget it

http://relishreads.com/2013/12/01/monsieur-le-commandant/ ( )
  Lucy_Rock | Dec 1, 2013 |
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French Academician and Nazi sympathizer Paul-Jean Husson writes a letter to his local SS officer in the autumn of 1942. Tormented by an illicit passion for Ilse, his German daughter-in-law, Husson has made a decision that will devastate several lives, including his own.… (more)

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