#‎RivetingReviews: Max Easterman reviews INHUMAN RESOURCES by Pierre Lemaitre

Inhuman Resources is the first novel by Pierre Lemaitre I’ve had the chance to review and, reading it, it’s immediately clear why he has won France’s premier award, the Prix Goncourt (for The Great Swindle in 2013). This thriller was written three years earlier, at the height of the economic crisis in France, and the unemployment which ravaged the country is both the cause of, and the constant backdrop to, the story. The translation, by Sam Gordon, is masterful: you can’t imagine it wasn’t written in English.

Alain Delambre is a human resources executive who’s been out of work for four years and has been forced into menial jobs: sorting boxes, lugging crates, handing out fliers. So when he’s offered an interview for a ‘real’ job with an international company, he’s determined to do everything to get it – which includes participating in a recruitment test involving a simulated hostage-taking.

‘… the executives under assessment will be ambushed by an armed commando … [this] will make it possible to measure their ability to remain calm under pressure … and their loyalty to the company …’

The Apprentice was never like this!

Delambre’s total commitment to getting the job leads him to abandon every scruple: to dupe one daughter out of her house deposit, to emotionally blackmail the other, to assault his son-in-law and to put his marriage at risk – which not even his years of unemployment have done.

The dynamics of the hostage-taking scenario are analysed in meticulous detail: how desperation leads to violence; how the interplay of the two produces disaster.

‘He had reached a point of no return, and he clearly had no idea how things were going to finish. That’s always the hardest bit – finishing.’

This is one of the most unsettling noir novels I have ever read: I experienced a deep sense of foreboding at several points, so realistic is the writing. I really felt I was Delambre and that I was living through his personal torments:

‘This is the moment of truth … the arguments with Nicole … the nerves … the tension … everything has just been a precursor to this final stage, which rests on one single, critical issue: how far am I willing to go? To succeed, I must take every risk. I feel terribly depressed.’

How far he goes, and how well Lemaitre describes it, made me feel most uncomfortable as I turned the pages. What new revelation would I next be confronted with, as Delambre discovers depths and resources he never knew he possessed, as well as experiences and emotions he very much wished he had not? In the end, his existence depends entirely on his wife and her love – which his every action has put at risk:

‘She must be asking herself how I managed to get into this mess, and what’s going to happen to us. To her. To me. To us … My point of reference is not time or meals or noise … Only Nicole. My world is defined by her love.’

This is a smash-hit of a novel, with a Bond-style dénouement … and a further sting in the tail. Be prepared …

Reviewed by Max Easterman

INHUMAN RESOURCES

Written by Pierre Lemaitre

Translated from the French by Sam Gordon

Published by Maclehose Press (2018)


Max Easterman

Max Easterman is a journalist – he spent 25 years as a senior broadcaster with the BBC – university  lecturer, translator, media trainer with ‘Sounds Right’, jazz musician and writer.

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Category: ReviewsSept 2018

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