Monday 29 November 2021

Heatwave by Victor Jestin t. Sam Taylor #Heatwave #VictorJestin @ScribnerUK @SamTayl66360996 #TranslatedFiction

Leonard is an outsider, a seventeen-year-old uncomfortable in his own skin who is forced to endure a family camping holiday in the South of France. Tired of awkwardly creeping out of beach parties after only a couple of beers, he chooses to spend the final Friday night of the trip in bed. However, when he cannot sleep due to the sound of wild carousing outside his tent, he gets up and goes for a walk.

As he wanders among the dunes, he sees Oscar, one of the cooler kids, drunk in a playground, hanging by his neck from the ropes of a swing. Frozen into inaction, he watches Oscar struggle to breathe until finally his body comes loose and falls lifeless to the ground. Unable to think straight, he buries Oscar in the sand and returns to the campsite where, oppressed by the ferocious heat and the weight of what he did and did not do, he will try to spend the remaining hours of the holiday as if nothing had happened.
Told over the space of a long weekend, this intense and brilliant novel is the story of an adolescent struggling to fit in. Heatwave is a gripping psychological thriller that poses the existential question:

Is doing nothing sometimes the very worst thing you can do?

Heatwave by Victor Jestin was published in hardback by Scribner UK on 22 July 2021 and is translated from the French by Sam Taylor. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I've been intrigued by this book for a while now. It is the debut novel by this young French author and has already won several literary prizes. I'm a huge fan of Sam Taylor as a translator too, he's translated some of my favourite novels recently, including all of those by Leila Slimani. 

It's just over 100 pages long and begins with such a powerful paragraph; the opening line is
'Oscar is dead because I watched him die and did nothing.'

These words are spoken by Leonard, the lead character, and it is his voice that narrates the whole story. Leonard is seventeen years old, something of a loner, the odd one out. He's currently staying on a campsite on the French coast, with his parents and two younger siblings. Leonard does not want to be on vacation, he doesn't enjoy the teenage parties held on the beach every night and creeps away from them every time.

It's the final Friday of the holiday and he cannot even be bothered to put on a front. He decides to miss the beach party altogether, and stay in his tent this evening. However,  the sound of the party goers disturb him and he goes for a walk. This is when he finds Oscar. 

The reminder of the story deals with Leonard's feelings about what he saw, and what he did, or increasingly, what he didn't do. Combined with his tortured feelings, he also has to deal with his own sexual awakening and the temptations thrown his way by Luce - a girl who is confident in herself and who he cannot help but be physically attracted to. Coupled with the constant narrative from his friend Louis, who is determined to get laid, Leonard begins to find each second of each hour a little more unbearable. 

The writing is sparse and concise, almost as oppressive and stifling as the heatwave that takes place during the book. It's a clever author who can create such an air of tension whilst detailing the almost dreary monotonous days that Leonard endures. 

This is superb writing, showing skill and an understanding of a young man's mind, combined with the guilt and worry about what he has done and what may become of him.  Certainly an author to watch. 

Victor Jestin is a twenty-six-year-old writer and screenwriter.

He grew up in northwestern France and now lies in Paris.

Heatwave is his debut novel. Originally published by Flammarion under the title La Chaleur, it won the Prix Femina des Lycéens and was nominated for the Prix Medicis and Prix Renaudot.

Sam Taylor grew up in England, spent a decade in France and now lives in the United States.

He is the author of four novels and the award winning translator of more than sixty books from the French, including Laurent Binet's HHrH, Leila Slimani's The Perfect Nanny and Maylis de Kerangual's The Heart. 

Twitter @SamTayl66360996

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