Thursday, July 5, 2018

"The Moment Before Drowning"

James Brydon grew up in North Shropshire, England, and studied English at Oxford. For over a decade, he has worked as a cryptic crossword setter. Under the name Picaroon, he sets two puzzles a month in the Guardian, and he compiles for the Spectator, the Times (London), and the fiendish Listener puzzle, drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as the films of Akira Kurosawa and the six-fold symmetry of snowflakes. He is fluent in French and Serbian, is currently polishing his German, and can hold a conversation in passable Chinese. He lives in St. Albans, England, with his wife and daughter.

Brydon applied the Page 69 Test to The Moment Before Drowning, his debut novel, and reported the following:
The Moment Before Drowning is the haunting story of two murders: one the main protagonist is asked to investigate, and one he is accused of. In the background, it’s also an exploration of colonial history, and a book about memory and the shifting, elusive nature of truth.

On this page, Captain le Garrec is questioning the aristocratic Christian de la Hallière, a suspect who knew the murdered girl’s father during World War Two. De la Hallière, part of French troops that fought with the Wehrmacht, recounts how he killed a Russian peasant during the retreat on the Ostfront precisely because the act was unjustifiable, and therefore steeped in the pleasure of crime. De la Hallière gleefully highlights the paradox between the supposed moral progress of modernity and the barbarity of mass destruction and the Holocaust: “We may claim to abhor war, in this sanitized century we inhabit, but the conflicts we have fought have pushed brutality and depravity to hitherto unseen levels.” As le Garrec listens, he is uncertain how much of what de la Hallìere says is fact, and how much he is embellishing to play the role of the unrepentant fascist.

Since this is a mystery novel, I won’t say if this information turns out to be significant. However, the notions that memory is never objective, and that truth is difficult to ascertain, resonate later on. Le Garrec will be called to give an account of a horrific act which occurred while he was in the army in Algeria, forcing him to confront his own traumatic past, and to try to reconcile his sense of guilt with his need for exoneration.
Learn more about The Moment Before Drowning at the Akashic Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue