A Long Way Off/ Daleko, dalej – Pascal Garnier

A noir with a twist. This short novel by Pascal Garnier takes us on a mad trip to Agen (very invitingly called the capital of prune). We travel with Marc, in his sixties, and his daughter Anne in her thirties. It is weird, painful, dark, but also funny in a menacing and sinister way.

Marc’s life is a good one, he has a wife, an apartment, in his sixties he’s clearly not lacking money nor health. Yet something is missing, in all this predictable stability Marc feels like he is suffocating. He starts hearing the call of the life beyond his own, quietly at first, just small rumblings, but they quickly turn deafening. 

Marc doesn’t really know what he wants, but he is clear it is not the here and now. So he decides to get on the way, aiming for the long way off. He picks up his daughter from a mental institution where she has been in for years and takes her for a trip to the seaside. Their relationship is strained to say the least. Marc locked into the conventions of average life and his daughter completely freed of them. Anne’s attitude to the world is not one of joyful carefree spirit, it is dark, strong-willed rejection. The world never cared about her so she will not stoop to caring about it.

Together with them travels a cat Marc bought in the first waves of his longing. For osme reason the cat initially loves Anne above all else, only to become slightly more suspicious as time passes. Marc injures his finger on a ritual African figure and the ensuing infection does not help his perception of reality.

Just like in the other book by Garnier that I read, How’s Your Pain?, we have here a relatively small world, two main protagonists and a handful of people they meet on their way. And that is completely sufficient to build a darkly funny story about mental suffering, the need for more and insatiable appetites. For a book that starts so innocently, it quickly reaches unexpected depths of darkness. The relationship between Marc and Anne rapidly evolves within days, driven not by a desire to be together but by the selfish needs and wants of each of them. 

Garnier is able to use his words very precisely and sparingly to achieve the effect he wants. He builds the atmosphere in a quick and subtle way, with just a few words and we instantly feel like we are there and like we feel what Marc feels. For let’s be honest, we don’t stand a chance of understanding what Anne feels, she is a force, as incomprehensible as the ocean or weather.

It is a brilliant exploration of unhappiness, that is not caused by any specific event, but by pure dissatisfaction with life as it is. Not an uplifting book by any means, but dark, quirky and funny nonetheless.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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