Happy Monday and new tax year everyone! Today, I’m delighted to be kicking off the week with an extract from Summer of Reckoning by Marion Brunet.
Big thanks to wonderful Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours for inviting me on the blog tour.
A psychological thriller set in the Luberon, a French region that evokes holidays in magnificent pool-adorned villas. For those who live there year-round, it often means stifling poverty and boredom. Sixteen-year-old Céline and her sister Jo, fifteen, dream of escaping to somewhere far from their daily routine, far from their surly, alcoholic father and uncaring mother, both struggling to make ends meet. That summer Celine falls pregnant, devastating news that reopens deep family wounds. Those of the mother Severine whose adolescence was destroyed by her early pregnancy and subsequent marriage with Manuel. Those of the father Manuel, grandson of Spanish immigrants, who takes refuge in alcoholism to escape the open disdain of his in-laws. Faced with Celine’s refusal to name the father of her child, Manuel needs a guilty party and Saïd, a friend of the girls from an Arab family, fits Manuel’s bigoted racial stereotype. In the suffocating heat of summer he embarks on a drunken mission of revenge.
Freed from Desire
They’d looked almost attractive when they left home earlier that evening. The mother, with her carrot-orange tan and her skin glowing with lotion, wore her gold chain with the dolphin charm. She looked so young nibbling at the animal with her front teeth, smiling absent-mindedly. The father smelled of soap and aftershave and was breathing heavily. He quickly put his soft packet of Marlboros in his shirt pocket – the collar was already drenched in sweat – and lit a cigarette in the early evening. He squinted in the still-bright, purplish light. He looked at the rows of vines as though he owned them.
Like at the start of every summer, Céline was revealing her indecent beauty with outfits that were too tight, her denim shorts cut so high the fold between her buttocks and thighs opened and closed with every step she took.
As for Jo, she couldn’t care less about what she was wearing; like every year since forever, she was going to a funfair feeling vaguely disgusted that she still found it somewhat exciting despite herself. So her skinny jeans dirty at the knees and black, shapeless tank top were good enough. She hung on her sister’s shoulder like dead algae. “Why can’t we take the car?”
Nobody replied. You could hear the bass thumping in the distance; it was a ten-minute walk at most.
The four of them were walking along the edge of the road together, a rare event. The girls picked up the pace to put some distance between them and their parents, the way they used to when they were little kids. Blades of dry grass penetrated their sandals and prickled their toes. They hopped on one foot and held on to each other’s shoulders to remove them. When they were in sight of the fair, walking past the stone cross, they slowed down a little so the others crowding around the rides wouldn’t think they were too impatient.
The village had been transformed: the funfair, set up for three days, altered the streets and offered contagious ecstasy and the smell of hot oil as far as the small central square right next to the church. The mother and father went up to the bar; the father’s mates and their wives were already there. There was loud, buoyant laughter. Patrick was trying to get his wife to dance but she was giggling and yelling that she didn’t feel like it and that he was already too drunk. They looked all lovey-dovey; you almost couldn’t tell any more that he’d smashed in her face the week before. She looked like a large moth, wriggling in her blue dress. The women ordered some rosé and the men pastis. They said hello to the girls, who didn’t linger.
“Better start keeping an eye on your eldest,” Patrick’s wife said with a grimace suggesting envy.
The father smiled proudly, his eyes following Céline’s small backside. Sixteen and promising. Patrick cleared his throat and ordered another drink.
The same people coming together again, like every year, gangs and families who ignore one another or blend in with the crackling and chaos of the entertainment. Once a year. Of course, there’s always St John’s Eve and the school fete. But the fair is a lot more fun. Céline, the belle of the ball, adulated by the boys – never mind from which gang – has always loved it. Even when she was younger, there were shady corners where she could rub up against a boyfriend’s body, playing at not going any further but stopping at the very edge. As for the boys, they’d dream of her pink fingernails on their erect little dicks; she would lovingly clutch large cuddly toys won in the shooting gallery, hoping for words of love. And if she had to let her breasts be clumsily fondled so she could obtain a miserable, stuttering I love you and other unimaginative derivatives, then she was up for it. She did want it, a little. Jo would be on the lookout.
But this evening, only her sister could see that Céline was pretending, opening her throat to laugh at Lucas’s nonsense, at Enzo’s half-baked jokes. She sparkled for the gallery.
Who Is Marion Brunet?
Marion Brunet, born in 1976 in the Vaucluse, is a well known Young Adult author in France. Her YA novels have received over 30 prizes, including the 2017 UNICEF Prize for Youth Literature. Summer of Reckoning is her first novel written for adults and her first work to be translated into English.
Katherine Gregor lives in London and has recently translated works by Alexander Pushkin from the Russian and plays by Carlo Goldoni and Luigi Pirandello from the Italian.