THE HEART OF THE MATTER
(Éditions de l’Olivier, 188 pages, 2015)
*** SOLD IN ITALY TO CLICHY ***
Simon’s first reaction to finding the body of a dead man sprawled across his living room floor is annoyance. He next notices that the banister from the upstairs landing is broken, and so most likely the man was pushed. Finally, he wonders if his companion, Diane, is home. Christian Oster’s seamless and humorous prose makes The Heart of the Matter a page-turner of great literary quality.
How annoying to find a body in your living room! A man, Simon observes, most likely pushed from the upstairs landing. But where is Diane? Her car isn’t outside, so she probably isn’t home. Best to check upstairs anyway. And there she is in the tub. In response to his questions, she ducks her head underwater. Okay, he thinks, there must be a connection between Diane and the dead man. He hands her a towel, and she emerges from the tub, but only to silently dress and pack a bag. Then she speaks, saying she can’t deal with it, and leaves. Goes and leaves Simon with the body.
Standing in the living room, over the man— Diane’s lover?—Simon notes that the man is dressed. But still, her lover? Phone calls to Diane go to voicemail. What next? What should he do with the body? He googles how long it takes a body to begin to decompose and then leaves it until the next evening, after dark, to bury it in the vegetable garden beneath the tomato plants.
Becoming friendly with a retired police officer and his wife helps his loneliness, but increases his paranoia about the body beneath the tomatoes. Because he can’t stand being in the house alone, Simon agrees to a week away at the officer’s widowed sister’s house in the country, and then begins to think that the officer suspects him of something and the invitation is just a trap to get him to confess. But what could or should he confess to? Diane decides to come back and tell her story to the police . . . but is it too little too late to help Simon?
Christian Oster is the author of several novels, among which Mon grand apartement (My Big Apartment, University of Nebraska Press, 2003; Éditions de Minuit, 1999) won the Prix Médicis 1999. Two others of his novels have been translated into English: In the Train (Object Press, 2010) and The Unforeseen (Other Press, 2007). His novel Une femme de ménage (A Cleaning Woman, Other Press, 2003; Éditions de Minuit, 2001) was turned into a film directed by Claude Berri.