“Guitar Blue”, by Simon Baril: the midnight blue of the West Coast

Los Angeles, in December 2020.

“Blue guitar”, by Simon Baril, La Tengo, 160 p., €18, digital €13.

“White literature” for “great fiction”, “noir novel” for police investigations, “Pink Library” for children… For his first novel, Simon Baril chose another palette, less classic, more mixed. Neither quite black, nor frankly white or pink, its captivating narrative subtly explores the territory of blue and night. A blue that is alternately cold, hard, deep as an abyss, electric, starry. Azure and soot mixed.

“Indigo Mood”. As in Duke Ellington’s standard, the narrator of blue guitar first grinds a very dark blue, almost anthracite. One evening in 1997, in Los Angeles, this young musician from Lyon was attacked in an alley, after a concert. A bottle of whiskey shattered with a blow to his skull. The stranger appeared behind his back then “methodically crushed his hands under his boots”, driving the shards of glass deep into his flesh, and leaving him on the ground, unconscious. The guitarist had surgery. But his hands look like “a giant gash planted with a kind of emaciated sticks”. Unable to resume music. His morale, above all, still lies in the gutter. Staying in Los Angeles, the young man sleeps during the day and walks at night through the city, until he is exhausted. Alone and haggard, for nine years.

Despite everything, he decides to keep his diary. Not to project oneself into any future: “I don’t see what future I could have. » Hardly more to describe his present, “a routine so limited and immutable that it should be quickly dispatched”. Only his past interests him. He would like to understand who assaulted him, why, and find his attacker(s).

A man almost dead, the police mobilized, revenge looming: Simon Baril had everything in hand to tie up a very dark Californian novel. Especially since he himself lived in Los Angeles. That he read with passion Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, David Goodis, Jim Thompson or James Ellroy. And that, a translator for fifteen years, he gave new versions ofInsurance on deathby James M. Cain (Gallmeister, 2017), and the classic by Dorothy B. Hughes In a Lonely Place (1947), under the title A man in the mist (Shores, 2019). He is also the French voice of William Boyle.

Baril, however, prefers another route here. His corpse remains half alive. His investigation stalls. The old policeman called to the rescue knows nothing. For the intrigue in suspense, it is missed. Instead of sinking into darkness, the central character tries to emerge from the darkness in which he has wandered too far. It is within himself that he seeks. “If I understand why I died, then I can live again”, he begins to hope. But he wonders: “What if I was crazy? »

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