In Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer, deftly translated by Anne Trager, chic Parisian attorney Catherine Monsigny is asked to represent Myriam, an undocumented African woman accused of murdering Gaston, her elderly husband. Catherine takes the job even though she dislikes Myriam, finding her by turns arrogant, passive, and fatalistic. But after Catherine takes a room in the small provincial village where her client is awaiting trial, hordes of personal memories begin to flash into her usually disciplined mind. More than 20 years earlier, her mother was beaten to death near such a village, possibly even the same one. The young Catherine, tucked into a stroller, heard the attack and even had a brief glimpse of the killer, who was never caught. Now, Catherine finds herself obsessed with that old crime.
Author Granotier’s style can be a challenge to readers unfamiliar with the French mystique. Written in the omniscient voice, several characters’ thoughts frequently appear on the same page—and sometimes in the same paragraph—which can be confusing at times. And remember Proust’s cake, the “petite madeleine” he described for several pages in Remembrance of Things Past? Granotier is apparently a fan of such involuntary memories, because she uses them aplenty, especially whenever food is consumed. But what a rich feast she delivers! Besides the food, she gives us the tracery of trees against the provincial sky, the scent of water in the rushing river, the twitch of a friendly innkeeper’s eyebrow. And, like Proust, she reminds us of the vagaries of time when she writes, “Clocks tell the time of day. But they’re not always an accurate measure of time, which can expand and contract, seemingly at will.” While patience is sometimes needed to enjoy The Paris Lawyer, the rewards are enormous. And so is the surprise when that shadowy murderer of memory enters Catherine’s life again.