If you have been following my blog or YouTube channel over the past few months you will have heard me rave about Michel Bussi’s novel Black Water Lilies on more than one occasion. Three of his novels have been translated into English this year, Black Water Lilies was actually the second, After The Crash was the first and so I had to read it!
After The Crash tells the story of a plane crash in a mountainous region of France. Everyone on board the plane is killed, except for one baby. There were two babies on board and as the crash happened in the eighties this was before DNA testing became commonplace so the mystery of who the baby is becomes an obsession for both families involved as well as a private detective hired by one of the families. I was really pleased that this novel had such a different premise to Black Water Lilies as I much prefer when authors try different things (other than when it is a series). Reading the novel you can tell it is written by Bussi as his strong yet often beautifully descriptive authorial voice peaks through. At the same time this is a hard-hitting, gritty and often brutal novel. There are moments of real violence alongside childhood memories and grief.
What Bussi does particularly well is write character. There is variation between the two families involved, Bussi creates a strong sense of division and suspicion. Each character has very individual motivations, interests and personality. None of the characters are a hundred percent innocent or likeable, they all have moments of human error, when they are selfish or hurtful or make mistakes that feel obvious to the reader. However at the same time, the characters who appear most despicable at the beginning of the novel are given emotions and back stories that explain why they are the way they are and made me sympathetic to most of them.
For me this is a really good novel but it doesn’t have the same element of surprise that Black Water Lilies had. I saw quite a few of the plot twists coming, particularly the final twist I had worked out pretty early on in the novel. I also felt that some of the characters fell into moments of cliché, even if they were saved later by greater complexity and depth.
Overall this is a very original, captivating read. Moments of it are brutal and uncomfortable and the questions of what we would do in this situation, to insist that the baby was our family member, did make me think. I wish that there was greater subtlety and that some of the twists had not felt so contrived and obvious. Bussi has a fantastic narrative voice, he creates original characters and narratives, for me this novel is just not as good as Black Water Lilies, perhaps the answer is to read this one before Black Water Lilies. Therefore I am hopeful that the latest Bussi translation, Don’t Let Go will be the best yet!