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Daniel Pennac: La fée carabine (The Fairy Gunmother)

This is the second in the saga of the Malaussène family, staring Benjamin, the professional scapegoat. Ben has been keeping away from work – he works for a publisher – but his boss calls him in to act as a professional scapegoat when the chauffeur crashes the car and burns up the only copy of the galleys of their star architect-writer. His job is to sweet-talk the architect-writer into accepting a delay in publication of his book. Of course, though the nominal hero, Benjamin and his extended family, play a relatively minor role to the real heroes of this book, the police, and, in particular, the independently wealthy Inspector Pastor. The problem starts when an old woman shoots a police officer, whose job was to protect old women from hoodlums. Most of the action is set in and around Belleville, the town outside Paris where many immigrants live. The plot starts to get mildly complicated, with drugs, murder, attempted murder, cross-dressing, police corruption, government corruption and lots of little old ladies. Suffice to say, it more or less comes to the good in the end.

Pennac shows us a France that, at least to foreigners, might be unusual. Like the French football team, the make-up of the French we meet is not white but varying shades of colours, with those of North African and South-East Asian origin predominating. He also shows us – no surprise here – that the cops are corrupt, government officials are corrupt and the high and mighty are corrupt. In short, he sides with the little guy but the little guy is not your parents’ Frenchman.

Publishing history

First published 1987 by Gallimard
First published in English 1997 by Harvill Press