Translated by Graham H Roberts — This slim volume comes in the guise of a flyweight but punches like a super-heavyweight. Little Rebel is a thought-provoking novella that is also highly entertaining.
A police inspector is seconded to the regional office for State Internal Security in an unnamed port city in western France. Geopolitical events, already in train, will lead to his murder, the inevitable march of broken history. When it happens it’s not the terrorists chasing after him who kill the inspector but a municipal constable shocked to see a man running towards him holding a gun and waving his arms in warning. He interprets this as a threat – an Arab with a gun – shoots the inspector dead. Another tragic brick is added to the wall. More cock-up than conspiracy, a sad, poignant moment among many.
However, if the inspector had been white the constable wouldn’t have pulled the trigger, this is no accident, it’s the result of ingrained prejudice and fear. Author Jérôme Leroy is interested in what led to that shooting and where it fits in a long chain of events that stretches across centuries and continents begging the question: what comes next? Every thought and action in Little Rebel is distilled, refined and honed and yet the plain prose is deceptive, almost jaunty, as the pace gathers relentlessly toward a devastating denouement. Word by word, it is a damning portrait of the divisions in modern society and the folly that engenders. The story of a handful of people and an unnamed town reveals so much about humanity in general and this sea port could just as easily be Dover, it could be Italy, Spain or America.
Inspector Mokrane Méguelati brought his family to this run down seaside city with its dying shipyard, soaring unemployment, brutalist concrete post war reconstruction and tensions. For years the issues here have been ramped up not alleviated, and something fermented thousands of miles away is about to explode. Cindy Lefèbre is an experienced police officer, unsure of herself, trapped here since she failed the national exams. Her partner, Richard Garcia, is ex-military, employed by the new mayor after the victory of the far right coalition in the local elections, the Patriotic Bloc. Garcia is a bundle of sexism, racism, fear and inexperience but he’s armed and ready. An idiot, basically. When an Arab with a gun approaches their car Garcia shoots, a shot gun to the head, it’s messy, ugly, exhilarating, righteous. The dead man is Inspector Méguelati.
Only minutes before Méguelati was meeting an informant with important information on an imminent attack. Abdul, on a watch list because of the company he keeps, doesn’t fit the profile of a terrorist but he has a vulnerability. They entrapped him in a homosexual liaison and blackmail him into cooperation. Méguelati can see that Abdul is scared and when two men walk up he recognises the danger. They open fire, the policeman returns it. Méguelati escapes, but it’s too late for Abdul, who just has time to mumble one last secret before he dies. As Méguelati runs he sees the police car, he waves. In the aftermath an operation is launched. The combatant us hiding in a cellar, he can hear the helicopter overhead, assumes the operation has gone wrong. His inspiration was the Little Rebel of the title. It all started with her, they egged each other on, he was angry at the infidels, she at the inequality of the world.
Not a word is out of place in this tight, poignant and insightful story. It’s not so much that everything has reason but that everything has a cause. Minor slights and full scale intolerance and misunderstanding all bleed one into another. Leroy captures the mindless cycle of violence begetting violence when the response is unthinking. The tragic death of inspector Méguelati is a flashpoint on a long road of intolerance, division and conflict, the bodies pile up, the entrenchment roots, chasm widens. Leroy skilfully sets out a landscape which goes beyond the obvious religious divisions to explore the psychology of revenge, grief, greed, poverty and the closed mind.
Little Rebel is a little gem, and apt for our times. Jérôme Leroy is a prolific writer but this is his first work translated into English we can only hope for more and the sooner the better.
If you like the sound of this, also try Olivier Norek.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars