REVIEW: Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi

Wow. I have just finished Black Water Lilies and I am still taking in the ending. This is not just a novel, it’s an experience. Beautifully crafted, moving quickly and yet revelling in detail, description and language. 

Jerome Morval has been found dead in a pond, the very pond in Giverny where Monet spent thirty years painting his Water Lilies. As the truth behind Morvals death unfolds we follow the lives of three women who live in Giverny and all feel entrapped by the town and it’s mythology, its place within art history. And that’s what this novel is really about, these three women and their different experiences within Giverny. Their experiences of art, love and loss. 

The novel has been translated by Shaun  Whitestead from French and the language is carried across wonderfully. The descriptions are rich and vivid and the characters feel real on every page. I could not put this book down! I have picked a paragraph here to show you how beautiful the language is without revealing any of the plot:

‘Look at the garden, Inspector, the roses, the flower beds, the pond. I’ll let you into another secret. Giverny is a trap! A wonderful setting, certainly. Who could dream of living anywhere else? Such a pretty village. But I have to confess: the decor is frozen. Petrified…We live in a painting here. We’re walled in. We think we are the centre of the world, that we’re worth the trip, as they say. But it’s the landscape, the decor, that ends up dripping all over you – like a kind of varnish that glues you to the setting.’

As you can see the language is elegantly crafted and Bussi maintains this throughout. It is not often that a highly engaging, dark crime thriller has such wonderfully written prose. The book is enchanting, it draws you in with its strong setting, it’s references to art and history and French culture and it keeps you focused on the questions within the plot, the crime to be solved.

Even more wonderfully, the ending is perfect. I was very emotional when reading the final chapters and I don’t usually react like that to a novel. This has been my favourite novel of the year so far, it has been my favourite novel for some time. I would love to be able to write like this.

I highly recommend this novel, it brings together the best of crime fiction and the best of literary prose. It’s unique, unputdownable and when  you are finished I guarantee you will sit for some time, taking in what you have read and wishing you could read it again with the same surprise as your first read. Perfect.


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