Eat Him if You Like
by Jean Teule
In the style of the TV news reader I must warn you that this review contains some distressing images.
Alain de Monéys was a local landowner, hoping soon to be mayor of the small town of Hautefaye in the Dordogne. It’s 1870, France is at war with Prussia and the inhabitants of the town are experiencing a summer hotter than hell. The war isn’t going well and at the Hautefaye fair the locals are drinking hard. En route to the fair Alain is greeted with shouts of affection and support for the upcoming mayoral election but when he comments on the fact that the war isn’t going as well as it could the crowd turns on him (despite the fact that some of them know he has just volunteered to fight for his country) and the consequences are horrific. For two hours de Monéys is subjected to the most horrific torture, burning and beating and, if that isn’t enough, people taking part in the killing collect the fat dripping from his burning body, spread it on bread and eat it. In their drunken, crazed state de Monéys had become a monster, a shape-shifter who had to be destroyed.
Jean Teulé has taken an historical event and turned it into a compelling and terrifying story of collective madness. Although the subject matter is sickening, I couldn’t help but be impressed with Teulé’s account of the story. He puts words into the mouths of his characters so believably it makes them brim with life. His penchant for the grotesque and macabre (THE SUICIDE CLUB, MONSIEUR MONTESPAN) is well known but he does what he does so well with a lightness of touch and a sense of humour.
I read this novella just after the August riots and couldn’t help but be struck by similarities. Of course the events in London and elsewhere weren’t nearly so gory -but they were every bit as crazy.
Published by Gallic on 10th November – 103pp
Read aninterview with Jean Teulé in the Independent about the writing of this book and the reaction of the current residents of Hautefaye.