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SHE WHO WAS NO MORE
By BOILEAU-NARCEJAC (Pushkin Vertigo; 2015)

After Penguin’s new version of Ray Russell’s THE CASE AGAINST SATAN, this, I believe, was the most important reprint of 2015. It’s the first-ever US trade paperback edition of SHE WHO WAS NO MORE by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, a 1952 novel that has been out of print (in English) for over 50 years.

     SHE WHO WAS NO MORE is best known as the source material for Georges Franju’s suspense classic LES DIABOLIQUES/DIABOLIQUE, although the text is quite divergent from what ended up onscreen. In contrast to DIABOLIQUE, in which a married woman is tormented by what she thinks is the ghost of her murdered husband, the protagonist here is a man, one Fernand Ravel. He’s a none-too-contented suburbanite engaged in a torrid affair with the scheming seductress Lucienne. The relationship quickly turns twisted, and the two decide to poison Fernand’s wife Mireille so they can collect her insurance money.

     The killing goes through as planned, concluding with Fernand and Lucienne dumping Mirielle’s corpse in a stream so it will look like she drowned. Yet a host of unforeseen problems inevitably pop up, starting with the overpowering guilt that suffuses Fernand. Then there’s the fact that Mirielle’s corpse inexplicably disappears from where it was dumped, and that Fernand receives a letter from Mirielle claiming she’ll be away for a while--which happens to be dated a day after her death.

     I’ll refrain from giving away any more of the narrative, which pivots on a succession of ingeniously conceived twists, and culminates in a final revelation that’s not as shocking today as it probably seemed back in ’52, but still packs a punch. Equally important to the novel’s transcendent effect (and what pushes it into horror territory) is its core of aberrant psychology.

     Fernand’s strained mental state is arguably where the real action occurs, and the authors evince a disturbing grasp of the vagaries of insanity. Fog is a frequently employed motif, and carries much literal and symbolic weight: “Fog. There was no end to it…He was made of the same stuff himself. A wandering soul, a phantom… 

     

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