Boileau-Narcejac: The Fiends/The Woman Who Was No More aka Celle qui n’était plus/Les diaboliques (1952)

Boileau-Narcejac, the French writer duo, are for France what Simenon is for Belgium or Agatha Christie for the UK. They are not traditional crime writers though. Solving the mystery is not the main interest when reading them. What they are famous for is the twist in the stories. The combination of the spooky with the suspense. The density of the melancholic atmosphere. Their writing is a cinematographic one. Once you open one of Boileau-Narcejac’s psychological thrillers you feel as if you were in the middle of a movie. No wonder their books were made into movies. The most famous one is certainly Hitchcock’s Vertigo that was based on their D’entre les mort/Sueurs froides aka The living and the dead.  The second most famous one is Cluzot’s Les diaboliques that was later remade starring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani. It will not be easy to find English translations of their work. They are out of print, I guess. This book is no exception but it is worth trying and libraries should have them, I am sure.

Sit back, open the book and let yourself be enchanted by this atmospheric, haunting tale in which there is a lot of dense fog along dark, sparely lit piers. The lanterns illuminate the quay only barely and inside the house you see a couple, Ravinel and his lover Lucienne, planning the murder of Ravinels’s wife. They are after her life insurance. Lucienne who is a doctor has planned it carefully. They will give Murielle an anesthetic and drown her in the bath. Ravinel is a salesman. He works in Nantes but lives near Paris.  They trick Murielle into coming to Nantes, kill her and drive with her body back to Paris where  they dump her in a river. But this is only the very beginning of the story. If Murielle is dead, how come she is writing letters to Ravinel? Ravinel knows the answer. She is a ghost. Isn’t she? The second part of the story takes place in  Paris which gives the writers the opportunity for detailed descriptions of little smoky bars and cafés, old, dark houses. The way they describe a Sunday morning in a house, with all the different noises, children screaming, radios blaring and the smells of coffee and breakfast is wonderfully evocative.

There will be much more confusion in this book and the end is quite astonishing.

Boileau-Narcejac are masters of their art. If you have ever seen one of those French movies, maybe Le quai des brumes with  Jean Gabin, then you know the feel. There is a certain visual simplicity that is highly atmospherical. A solitary lamppost on an empty street, its yellow halo penetrating the fog. A lonely person in a room smoking and thinking. The pictures are simple but the feelings are complex. Their writing is economical and highly efficient at the same time.

I would really like to encourage you to discover these great writers.

Since I am not sure if I finish my German book/books for R.I.P. I count this as Peril The Third.

Celle qui n’était plus

11 thoughts on “Boileau-Narcejac: The Fiends/The Woman Who Was No More aka Celle qui n’était plus/Les diaboliques (1952)

  1. Now this sounds right up my alley as I love Christie and Simenon and mysteries/crime in general. Unfortunately my library doesn’t seem to have any of their books, but we do have Les Diaboliques on film. I love Hitchcock’s Vertigo (love anything by Hitchcock really) and had no idea it was based on a book. More to add to my list!

    • I own a few of their books but hadn’t read them before. I started this the other night and couldn’t stop. I love the French movies of the 40ies and 50ies and this had exactly this atmosphere. I got Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone now waiting for me.

  2. Love your review and it makes me want to read it but when as you said it won’t be aeasy to find 😦 I don’t know if I ever gonna find it.

    You know, I’m a bit confused about R.I.P. challenge, I have read 4 books already and will post my 5th soon…will that mean the 5th is considered peril the 3rd? and how bout the movies?

    PS: I was going to leave this comment in your post about Monroe but because your url is using (‘) I couldn’t leave my comment, so I left it here.

    What does it mean by being found? how could a diary be lost for such a long time? and how do they know it’s really hers?

    Sorry for so many questions, but it left so many question for me when I read your post

    • Maybe they will be republished. It is not even easy to get the French ones at the moment. It is a fashion thing. In France people read Vargas and others and seem to have forgotten abou Boileau & Narcejac. They wrote many more, you find another one. For R.I.P I don’t think you need to absoluetely stick to the rules, but that is me guessing. Some people reviewed quit afew movies in one go. I still would like to do another movie review (really modern!) and maybe one or two other book reviews and short stories. I just thoght if I don’t manage my Meyrink I did at least one book.

      Monroe: I may have used the wrong term when saying found. Apparently Lee Strasberg’s wife had them all these years. She showed them to a French journalist and I believe he did the book but it is not out in France yet. It is more a discovery in terms of no one knowing they existed. Or maybe it was know she wrote diaries but not poems. I like her a lot and always thought she is not just some dumb blonde… She was very delicate and in need of help, that is for sure. But to this day I am not sure she did reallly take her own life. They know it is her diary because she seems to have lived with the Strasberg’s and left it there. The photos are even better than the rest by the way.

  3. I love Les diaboliques and Clouzot’s films in general (I think I’ve seen four of them now–all great), Caroline, but I’d never thought of looking for the book it was based on. What a cool cover, too. Thanks so much for the review! P.S. Very nice blog you have here!

    • Thank you, Richard, this is very nice of you. I am only starting really. I am just a bit frustrated that many, especially new French and German books, haven’t even been translated yet. Clouzot is wonderful. I havent seen this one though but I am very curious.

  4. Pingback: Fumiko Enchi: Masks – Onnamen inaudita (1958) | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  5. Pingback: Review: She Who Was No More (1952) by Boileau- Narcejac (Trans: Geoffrey Sainsbury) – A Crime is Afoot

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