(Payot & Rivages, 112 pages, 2019)
*** SOLD IN POLAND ***
“We should always drink that way.”
“How?” asks The Bomb.
“I don’t know. Aware. Naked. Cleaned out.”
For the past fifty-nine hours, Chief Jackie Thran and her Police Tactical Unit have laid siege to ECWC, Hong Kong’s most prestigious wine cellar, where former English army bunkers have been converted into underground caves providing a perfectly climate-controlled environment. Yet, despite the highly sophisticated security system, someone still managed to break in. Three hundred fifty million dollars’ worth of rare grand crus is now held hostage, and time is running short: typhoon Shanshan is on its way. . .
The indication that something is amiss comes in the form of a cryptic tweet sent directly to the local media: “You cannot enter anymore. We have opened everything . . . ECWC.” At first, Ethan Coetzer, the cellar owner, hopes it is a hoax. He had planned to use the typhoon as a marketing ploy, and organized for the occasion an exclusive dinner for clients “with a certain taste for danger,” mitigated, of course, by “the certitude of optimum safety.” The first raid failed, and a negotiator is called in to assist in the standoff. Now they all have to urgently figure out the who, the how, and, not least, the why.
The first inkling of evidence—proving that the intruder might be female—is a black Jimmy Choo pump popping up through the half-open armored door of Bunker Alpha. A bottle containing an unknown substance rolls on the tarmac. Other bottles follow suit, mysteriously appearing in front of the Headquarters entryway. The least-valuable bottle is noticeably left untouched, while the more exceptional one is open and three-quarters empty. Whoever invaded the cellar clearly knows their wine, and thoroughly enjoys it! And judging by the alarming noises relayed by the sound system, they also seem to be having a lot of fun playing ninepins with vintage bottles.
In their own time, the intruders introduce themselves. There is Silly, the tall seductress, alias: The Brunette; Bizzie, hyperactive and unpredictable, alias: The Clown; and an unnamed, seasoned ex-commando, working in symbiosis with her highly trained rat, Illiad, alias: The Bomb. Taking advantage of their upper hand, the three women demand various designer make-up products from Chief Thran and her team. Coetzer, as worried as he is intrigued, decides to take matters into his own hands. He enters the bunker, bringing in person the frivolous items the ladies have requested. The terms of negotiation they offer him, however, are nothing like he would have expected.
Delivered with fast-paced and razor-sharp prose, Bacchantes is a subversive and burlesque tale that can be savored in one sitting. Minard displays her caustic sense of humor and cinematographic flair as she interweaves the technical minutiae typical of the heist genre with lyrical musings on the sensual pleasures of wine. Her audacious and sassy heroines are not driven by the folly of youth. Rather, they have lived long enough to know that, in today’s hypercommodified world, an appreciation of the Dionysian aspects of life can be a radical act in itself.
Céline Minard is the critically acclaimed author of eleven novels. So Long, Luise (Denoel, 2011) won the prestigious Franco-German Franz Hessel Prize. She also received numerous awards for Faillir être flingué (Rivages, 2013), including the Virilio Prize in 2013, and the Prix du Livre Inter in 2014. Her most recent novel before Bacchantes is Le Grand Jeu (Rivages, 2016). Critics assert that her work inaugurates “the return of hardline fiction in the French literary landscape.”