Dark and Twisty does it: TARANTULA by Thierry Jonquet.

Published by Serpent’s Tail

It’s always nice to get a surprise – especially when it’s a book shaped parcel landing on the doormat here.

But sometimes surprises can be nasty ones and, having been told this was dark and twisted, and taking a look at the front cover and the references to Sade and Sartre, I really wasn’t sure that I was going to enjoy this.

At just 124 pages, I thought I could afford to take the risk, brewed coffee and opened the book….

The first thing that struck me was the comment in the brief biog about author Thierry Jonquet (born in Paris in 1954) which included the comment that his ‘crime novels and children’s books have garnered many literary prizes’.  What?  Rewind…..this man has also written books for children?  Wow! – I may need to check those too, as this is a wild dark ride and a few pages in I was convinced I’d fallen into a David Lynch movie.

Originally published in France as ‘Mygale’, Tarantula is a tale with a seriously disturbing twist and, now that the book has been filmed (by Pedro Almodovar as ‘The Skin in Which I Live’ starring Antonio Banderas) I am really keen to see just how a film-maker will deal with such a cleverly crafted narrative on screen as it’s skillfully executed on the page.

The main story is that of expert plastic surgeon, Richard Lafargue, a very strange and complex character who keeps a woman, Eve, captive in his home, only taking her out for meals and functions after she has ‘performed’ for him with other men as a prostitute whilst he views from the next room.  He keeps her chained up most of the time and inflicts upon her some savage men such as Varneroy – who often arrives with his own whip and leaves Eve so damaged that it takes a long time for her to heal before she can be seen outside again.  We discover that Lafargue has a daughter, Viviane, who is held at a psychiatric institute and who regularly self-mutilates, leaving him to return home in utter anguish and pain after each visit there.

‘His suffering had to be appeased, and Eve existed solely for this purpose.’

But, despite all of the above, Eve appears complicate to the events and accepts the role she has been given, attending parties, helping select ‘customers’ for herself and returning home to be used by them.

Alongside this tale, a second strand to the story runs.  That of Alex, a bank robber turned cop killer who is in hiding and at the same time searching for his missing friend Vincent Moreau.  In a surreal way the two stories run alongside each other for most of the book, seeming to be about to overlap on several occasions before moving apart once again, bumping each other along the route.

And then, with Alex discovering Lafargue’s masterly talent for facial reconstruction, he makes the decision to kidnap Eve and hold her to ransom, to blackmail Lafargue into giving him a new face, a new identity.

And, it’s at that point that I’ll stop with detailing anything further about the plot for a major revelation suddenly brings the two strands crashing into each other but in a way that is delivered in such a matter of fact tone that I had to read back quickly to check that I’d just really read what I thought I’d read!

Dark and twisty? – Most certainly.

But also gripping, fast, intriguing and so so skillfully pulled off as a dark piece of crime fiction – Tarantula has to be one of the nicest darkest surprises I’ve had for a long time.

Seek it out before the movie hits the cinemas – very highly recommended.

Keith B Walters

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