Set in Southwestern France in June 1944 during the German occupation, Lacombe Lucien is a tense work digging into the pathos of the era. The French citizens go about their lives quietly trying not to bring any attention to themselves. No one seems to know where his or her neighbor’s and, sometimes, even family loyalties lie. Lacombe Lucien is the 1974 screenplay collaboration between renown French movie producer Louis Malle and Patrick Modiano, recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. Translated into English by Sabine Destree, the screenplay is beautifully written and easily read.
Lucien Lacombe, the main character, is a seventeen-year-old country boy who exhibits rather rough behavior. Lucien is not a very likable character, yet there is something about this character that keeps one reading, or possibly watching, to see if or how he changes through the story. At the beginning of the story, Lucien is returning home to find things have changed. His father is a prisoner of war and his mother is living with another man. Lucien is indifferent to what is happening around him and only seems to do what pleases himself. He looks to join the Resistance for a taste of war but fails because he is too young, and one might postulate too immature or reckless. Sometime later, Lucien is caught watching the local French Nazi collaborator headquarters. They bring him in for questioning and seem to toy with him as they keep giving him drinks. He joins the collaborators after inadvertently giving up the head of the area Resistance. Working for the collaborators seems to suit Lucien who likes the power and intimidation that his new position gives him. Then he meets France Horne, a French born Jewish girl. Lucien helps France and her grandmother hide from deportation but he exacts payment from France for his aide.
I liked Lacombe Lucien as a dark historical story of a time rarely discussed. Yet it is a difficult book to recommend. One must first be interested either in the time period of this story or possibly a film aficionado. For a quick read, Lacombe Lucien has a lot of depth. Lucien’s choices lead him through the story to a conclusion that some would call just. There is no complication in the ending, although there is a lot of emotion. I am thinking the history is much more complicated than that presented within this small book. Nevertheless, Lacombe Lucien is a good story for its depth and character development and it is an intriguing look into a dark time.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Penguin Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.