Gagner la guerre

Within a few sunny days of being consigned at home [by the “war” against the epidemics], I went through Jaworski’s Gagner la Guerre [To the victors go the spoils], which I had discovered in the list of the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers (or rather of whoever replied to the call since the survey was not restricted to Le Monde subscribers).  While I still have no clue how the book ended up at the 67th position in the list (!), next to Yourcenar’s fabulous L’Œuvre au Noir, I am still glad that this list pointed out the very existence of this book. Although not much more enlightened as to whom would include it in the “best novels ever”. (Warning: As the novel has not been translated from French into other languages, the review  below may be of limited appeal to most readers!)

A possible explanation for this paradox is that Jaworski is originally a creator of role-playing games and hence famous among some role-playing communities as well, who could have mobilized efficiently enough to bring him within the 101. The plot shows some influence of this role-playing expertise as the central character, a despicable, violent, sexist, xenophobic, rapist, murderous, anti-hero Benvenuto, moves from one danger to the next, while visiting the continent imagined by the author and meets characters from one fantasy race after the other: elves, dwarfs, near-orcs. Reminding me very much of the races in Warhammer, since fighting styles associated with each conveniently identified the different parts of the country. The home town of Benvenuto is a mix of Italian Renaissance state-cities, between Sienna and Venezia. Run by a Senate of rich families, fighting a Southern kingdom closely resembling the Ottoman empire, as in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky. If in a much grittier style. It also reminded me of the fabulous Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, incl. Republic of Thieves. Sorcery is also involved here, whose role only appears progressively throughout the novel. Despite my usual annoyance at this choice, the writing style of the author, who also is a teacher of French literature in high school, always a first person narrative, ends up being a strength of the book, involving a rich multitude of language levels, from the vernacular to the antique, revealing as well a multitude of layers in Benvenuto (who finds himself anything but welcome from most places he visits!, including my living-room!!). None of them palatable however. To be perfectly clear, the book is an addictive page turner, despite an accumulation of details that sometimes delay the action, but which are nonetheless essential to make the book universe more substantial and complex. Highly recommended for French-speaking fans of grimdark pseudo-historical fantasy (over the legal age)!

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