Bird in a Cage
Very early in the discussion I was having with someone who had also read this book, it was declared that it would make for a very good stage production. I would like to think it was me that said so, for it is a very good idea – with its limited cast, minimal staging and the claustrophobia that results from both, it cries out to be performed in front of an audience. But I strongly suspect, what with it being a salient point concisely made, that it originated from the other side of the conversation. Despite that, I am making free use of it as the opening for my shop floor sales pitch.
I shall be up front about Bird in a Cage: I loved it. I have a real soft spot for French noir so my approach is not without bias: done well, there is a bleak, thrilling precision about these books that is utterly absorbing; done badly and they are usually short enough to get through and move on from. There is a real skill to the genre in avoiding verbosity and so efficiently conjuring a real unease and menace. Bird in a Cage is its epitome – taut, duplicitous, lean, mean and atmospheric to its core, a single sitting thrill whose measured start escalates unwaveringly.
It is not perfect. Chapters have a habit of concluding with italicised revelations, printed cliff-hangers that are immediately resolved with the turn of the page. It is hard not to imagine the dramatic sting music over a freeze-frame fade; they read a little too hoary and as such can be a distraction from the pace. Which is a shame, albeit a minor one.
Its real strength, a key to all good noir, is a narrative that avoids outright deception of the reader, opting instead for the withholding of truth. Grip-lit and contemporary psychological thrillers are not reinventions of the wheel. Bird in the Cage was published in the sixties. Raymond Chandler was writing in the thirties. Anybody who has read Endless Night knows Agatha Christie was all too happy to lead her audience astray. Readers have always been subject to the author’s will, and are just as used to having tricks played on them. It is not that tricks are played, but how they are played. Give everything away too quickly and the tension dies. Drop in too many twists and there is the risk of undermining the story. Frédéric Dard risks neither here. The first person narrative beautifully restricts the perspective. The drip-feed of revelation – italicised or not – is never not perfectly timed and never not grounded in the preceding text (the clues are always there, even if you have to go back and hunt them out). We, the reader, are entirely at the mercy of what is and is not revealed. All we can do is read to the end.
Bird in a Cage is a terse, dense treat, an immaculately structured slice of noir so well done you will not at all mind if you, like me, suspect what may really be going on before the truth is spilled on the page. There are more than enough surprises to keep you hooked, especially its perfect, final moments.