Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Gravediggers' Bread by Frederic Dard

The Gravediggers' Bread by Frederic Dard
First published in French by Fleuve Editions as Le Pain des fossoyeurs in France in 1956. English language translation by Melanie Florence published by Pushkin Press on the 28th June 2018.

One of my August Authorfest reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Wordery (unavailable)

Blaise should never have hung around in that charmless little provincial town. The job offer that attracted him the first place had failed to materialize. He should have got on the first train back to Paris, but Fate decided otherwise.

A chance encounter with a beautiful blonde in the town post-office and Blaise is hooked - he realizes he'll do anything to stay by her side, and soon finds himself working for her husband, a funeral director. But the tension in this strange love triangle begins to mount, and eventually results in a highly unorthodox burial...

I read The Gravediggers' Bread in its newly republished Pushkin Press translation. The story is a cleverly and believably plotted noir crime mystery which reminded me of similar genre novels by Pascal Garnier. I think Garnier fans, such as myself, would enjoy Frederic Dard books and vice versa. It's a very French novel and I loved its sense of style. The Gravediggers' Bread was originally written in the 1950s however and certain attitudes are very different today to those popularly held sixty years ago. A husband regularly beating his wife is no longer 'understandable' and we no longer believe a man just has to rape a woman to make her realise that she desired him all along. I was able to chalk these aspects up to outdated beliefs and read past them in this case. Had a modern-day novel so brazenly espoused such ideas though, I would be spitting feathers!

I loved Dard's evocation of place especially the claustrophobic funeral house with its nauseating decor. Our 'hero', Blaise isn't particularly likeable as a person, but I did like the portrayal of his character and could understand his actions even as I was willing the arrogant bastard to fail! His unfortunate love interest (more lust interest actually, given the speed of his declaration) is beautifully underplayed. For most of the novel I was frustrated at her 1950s housewife passivity, but I am now wondering how much of Germaine's role was what I expected to see. The narrative had me sympathising with each of the lead characters in turn which I didn't initially expect as a possibility. The minimal police involvement makes The Gravediggers' Bread more of a dark menage a trois than a police procedural or sleuth novel so it felt unusual for the crime genre. I think it could make a brilliantly tense stage play too.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Frederic Dard / Crime fiction / Books from France


  1. It can be hard to do sometimes but yes, you really do need to remember that those kind of aspects are due to outdated beliefs and just ignore them! Hopefully it didn't impact your reading experience too much. Sounds like some good crime fiction!

    My recent post: https://oliviascatastrophe.com/2018/08/all-the-books-all-of-the-time-book-haul/

    1. At least seeing those kind of attitudes back then allows me to recognise how far we have come away from such beliefs :-)

  2. I take the same attitude when I'm reading older books when it comes to taking into account the times they were published in. The noir aspect and descriptions would pull me in. I can even read about an unliked character if they are written well enough.

    Great review, Stephanie!

  3. So true about remembering the time period. This does sound quite interesting. Thanks for a lovely review!

    1. I'd like to read to more of Dard's crime novels :-)

  4. Yeah, sometimes older books really do have "beliefs" that are quite shocking to read, but remembering when it was written can sometimes help. Thanks for sharing!


    1. I can excuse outdated beliefs in older books although am often shocked by people still holding and spouting such grossly intolerant attitudes today.