I finished reading The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau in record time. That is not unusual for a crime thriller but Graeme Macrae Burnet is doing something very different from other crime novels. In most mystery packed thrillers you cannot wait to know who the killer or the criminal is. But in Adele, the actual crime takes a back seat. A mysterious case of disappearance has occurred but Burnet frustratingly keeps telling us about Manfred Baumann’s family background.
One thing that struck me was that the events happened so abruptly. They do not even seem like a twist in the tale but more like real life where things you do not expect, happen anyway. There is no pretension, no deliberate conjuring of intrigue to keep readers at the edge of their seats. The writing may even seem dull at times. What pushed me on is more like an obtuse curiosity to know how it ends for Baumann rather than for Adele. Some of the shocking incidents seemed more accidental than planned from the protagonist’s as well as the author’s perspective. Events proceed almost like an absurdist drama where many things happen but nothing leads anywhere (like the complications that Manfred invents in his head). Alternatively like Godot, nothing really happens (like the final culmination). Notably, Raymond Brunet’s first work is an absurdist drama. Manfred is a protagonist of an absurd drama demonstrating the futility of existence.
I was told that the book is a psychological thriller. Most psycho thrillers I’ve read involves a psychotic criminal or a psychologically driven motive. But Adele Bedeau is thought-provoking because the psychological aspect is so personal. The book is ultimately the outcome of extreme paranoia of an anti-social person of the likes of Meursault. Burnet has captured the idiosyncrasy and struggle of a man who had resigned himself to a life of loneliness. He craves the company of a warm and loving person, he dreams of a fairy-tale love story but his self-consciousness and low self-esteem prevent him from forming any kind of relationship. He can only feel superior in the presence of his meek assistant at his workplace. The existentialism and social awkwardness are very relatable even though the protagonists are not particularly endearing and do not capture the reader’s pity.
There is a meta-narrative running parallel to the plotline where the past and the present merge. Two characters have their points of view although one of them has almost nothing to contribute to the main focus of the novel. The unreliable narration brings out the complexity of human mind and the impossibility of truly knowing oneself. The style of representation makes one ponder whether in a literary work the resolution is more important or the leading up to it is. The book is not fast-paced but forces you to dwell on the characters and decipher their minds.
This focus on character rather than plot demarcates the book from conventional crime fiction. The figure of the out-of-place crime investigator is too common in the literature of espionage. It is Manfred who held the more fascination for me. To me, he is a tragic hero and Adele comes for him as the personification of Karma to force him to serve penance for his unpunished sins much like the Furies pursuing Orestes.
The book stayed with me long after I turned the last page. It made me pause, it made me think, and it made me write a 600-words review. I greatly look forward to reading His Bloody Project and The Accident on the A35.
About the author:
Srabani Bhattacharya is pursuing her Master’s Degree in English from Jadavpur University. She loves cats and can be found petting them wherever she finds one, but mostly in the narrow lanes of North Kolkata. She is interested in mythology, mysticism, Pink Floyd and the subtle art of everyday life.