“Manfred suddenly felt the gloomy effect of the wine. […] The bar had fallen silent. The regulars had suddenly ran out of topics of conversation, or perhaps felt self-conscious on account of the previously unnoticed stranger in their midst. The place was tainted now. He was no longer a nobody, but somebody who had been observed and whose behaviour was being noted. […] He tried to return to his daydream about escaping Saint-Louis, but the idea that he had even for a moment entertained the thought of running off and becoming a writer was ludicrous. […] Manfred drained his glass as if making a private toast to the death of his dream.”
I have chosen the above passage to commence this review because it exemplifies the themes at the heart of the novel: paranoia and self-consciousness, unrealised dreams and desires, alienation and loneliness. A commentary on style must be heeded with caution due to the nature of the novel as a “translation” from French. Suffice to say, the novel moves at a smooth, easy-going pace, interspersed with scenes of caustic intensity and photographic precision, such as the above example, that illuminate the depths and fathoms of the central human consciousness. The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau can be an emotionally draining work. I found the novel to be relentless at times in its portrayal of the social outcast Manfred Baumann, with uncanny resemblances towards my own feelings about loneliness and solitude. The minutiae of Manfred’s routine life are related in extraordinary detail. This is a novel fascinated by a certain facet of the human condition, and one that draws extensive autobiographical parallels, as the “translator” notes in his afterword.
From the onset, it is apparent that Baumann lives life inside an unchanging void: “It was an evening like any other at the Restaurant de la Cloche. Behind the counter, Pasteur, had poured himself a pastis, an indication that no more meals would be served and any further service would be provided by his wife, Marie, and the waitress, Adele. It was nine o’clock. Manfred Baumann was at his usual place by the bar.” The time is significant, for this is a clockwork universe that moves at the pace of Manfred’s consciousness. We are presented here with the world imaginatively recreated through Manfred’s perceptions and memory, indeed, his egotism. Manfred is shown to judge and prejudge others based on his own experience.
Manfred’s sexuality deserves particular attention in understanding the narrative for it informs the central tragedy of his life. He harbours prurient thoughts about the titular waitress. It is here that the novel absorbs the reader, for it is structured, as in a good Hitchcockean mystery, around the MacGuffin. Indeed, the novel creates interesting parallels with the film noir genre, not least because its secondary protagonist is a detective. There is a compelling streak of fatalism to Manfred through which the novel explores the aforementioned themes. This renders the novel an absorbing and multi-layered read.
Adam James Cuthbert