Book #51

The Disappearance Of Adèle Bedeau by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Manfred Baumann is a loner. Socially awkward and perpetually ill at ease, he spends his evenings quietly drinking and surreptitiously observing Adele Bedeau, the sullen but alluring waitress at a drab bistro in the unremarkable small French town of Saint-Louis. But one day, she simply vanishes into thin air. When Georges Gorski, a detective haunted by his failure to solve one of his first murder cases, is called in to investigate the girl's disappearance, Manfred's repressed world is shaken to its core and he is forced to confront the dark secrets of his past.

I love Manfred Baumann. I love him for the impossibility of understanding him. I love him for his incomprehensible creepiness. I love him for his complex way of viewing and interacting with the world. I love him for being entirely and irrevocably unlovable.

Living in the small French town of Saint Louis, Baumann lives his life by routine. The same meals at the same restaurant, at the same time, week in week out. He traverses the same streets, casts his eye on the same faces, and very rarely does he wander from his well-travelled paths. Until Adèle Bedeau, the waitress he had often admired in his routine restaurant, goes missing, and Baumann is the last man to have seen her. Seeing his reactions to the pressures placed upon him is cruelly satisfying, and attempting to understand his behaviours and motivations was a blessed puzzle.

Since Baumann is a truly abhorrent character, getting inside his head is the best part of this experience. He is entirely unreliable as a narrator, impossible to trust, and disgusting to behold. He has a twitching need to keep to his routine, as he believes changing one tiny aspect of this will cause everyone to begin talking about him. He passes it off as small town scrutiny, but it manifests darkly as a paranoid guilt - but why? His psyche mesmerised me.

In contrast to Baumann, we meet Inspector Gorski who is himself a complex character holding pain and regret. Seeing these two face off with one another is such a tense and delightful sensation.

A difficult one to review without revealing any plot details, but a wonderful psychological character study which will stay with me. Extra points for the Camus vibes.