“They say there were screams, gunshots, begging. But the chalet walls absorbed everything. Carnage behind closed doors. And nobody to save them.“
Samira Sedira ~ People Like Them
Anna and Constant Guillot live with their two daughters in the peaceful, remote mountain village of Carmac, largely deaf to the upheavals of the outside world. Everyone in Carmac knows each other, and most of its residents look alike – until Bakary and Sylvia Langlois arrive with their three children.
Wealthy and flashy, the family of five are outsiders in the small town, their impressive chalet and three expensive cars a stark contrast to the modesty of those of their neighbours. Despite their differences, the Langlois and the Guillots form an uneasy, ambiguous friendship. But when both families begin experiencing financial troubles, the underlying class and racial tensions of their relationship come to a breaking point, and the unthinkable happens.
Loosely based on a true story, this book begins with a vivid description of the quiet village of Carmac, where every day is the same. It seems picturesque, calm and removed from the hustle of modern cities. And yet, it quickly takes a more gruesome turn.
Told from the perspective of Constant’s wife Anna, this book has a poetic brilliance to it. Sedira’s words are translated beautifully by Lara Vergnaud and the story flows well.
The first two chapters suck you in and make you want to keep reading. However, the book’s short length means that the ending is abrupt and disappointing. We are told upfront of the brutal murders that have taken place, so I was expecting the rest of the book would break down and analyse the characters. Instead we are left with many unanswered questions, gaps and confusion.
This is a shame. There was a lot more that could have been discussed, especially how the brutal crime affected the rest of the villagers. How did they react to the murders and what about Constant’s daughters? The ‘friendship’ between the two families feels forced and awkward and it’s rather confusing when, despite everything they go to the fair together.
The narrator is cold and unfeeling, especially at the end where she is almost indifferent to her husband’s fate. This makes it difficult to trust her version of events. She knows her husband is jealous of Bakary, but her actions don’t help the situation and instead exacerbate his feelings of unworthiness and inferiority. Racial motivation relating to the crime is hinted at throughout – and in the book’s title – but it is never fully explored. We assume that unconscious bias plays a role in Constant’s actions, but perhaps his real drive was money, fuelled by envy.
People Like Them is thought-provoking and well-written; however, with more analysis of characters and the psychological effects on them following the crime, it would have been much a much stronger debut.
I was provided with a copy of the book by Tandem Collective and Bloomsbury Publishing. All opinions my own.
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