THE CHARACTERS: Heart to Heart (1959) was originally published in French under the title À Coeur Perdu (To a Lost Heart), a more fitting title encapsulating the themes of obsessive love, jealousy, possession, and retribution. As usual for Boileau and Narcejac, the story is told from a male viewpoint. Almost exclusively we see all the events through the eyes of Jean Leprat, the pianist lover who mortally wounds Maurice Faugères when he strikes him on the head with a heavy candlestick. I noted only one scene when the story shifts to Eve's viewpoint and Jean is not present. Otherwise, we are lost in Jean's obsessive world. It is almost strictly a two character piece with the story focusing on the aftermath of the crime and Eve and Jean's embroiled love-hate affair. They are typical of the tortured lovers that fascinate these French writers. Jean like Fernand Ravinal, the protagonist of She Who Was No More, is trapped by his emotions and lost in his thoughts. Interestingly, prison imagery is prevalent recalling their masterful thriller The Prisoner (Le Louves) published four years earlier. Jean muses over his desire to be free of the woman without whom he cannot live with lines like this: "To think that I love her so much -- as though I were some kind of animal and she were my mate!" Also like Ravinel Jean finds himself at the mercy of a controlling ghost of whom he remarks: "Eve belonged more to a dead man than to the living one."
INNOVATIONS: The police get involved when there are faint hints of foul play at the scene of Maurice's car accident. But it becomes a full blown investigation at the novel's midpoint with an unexpected murder of a supporting character that comes as a shock to the reader. Borel, the lead investigator, has as his primary clue only the sound of a woman's voice. A cab driver reports to the police that he dropped off a woman in the vicinity of the building where the crime took place. The most distinctive feature he can remember was her low and resonant voice, a voice like a radio singer. And so the book becomes not only about music and lyrics and the emotion carried in a powerfully written song but sound of all types. It's a brilliant addition of how sound and voices can become a surreal form of haunting that will eat away at the fragile consciences of our guilty duo.
Further building on the device of the several recordings that the dead Faugères has somehow managed to send to his wife and her lover the writers have Borel conduct an experiment in recording of his own. The policeman tracks down several woman singers and recording artists and asks them to speak the lines spoken to the cab driver and records them on tape. He plays all of the voices for Eve but she catches on quickly. She not only speaks the few sentences into the tape recorder she says, "Why did you not ask them to sing?" And then for the first and only time in the novel Eve sings the song "Heart to Heart." We never get to read the lyrics (a wise choice on the writers part) but we are told this:
She sang the first verse softly, her eyes fixed on Leprat. It was for him that she was singing. For him and for Florence, whom she was crushing with her talent. Florence ceased to exist. The challenge lent unbearable poignancy and sadness to Faugères' words. His song of farewell to Eve was transformed, in this police office, into her farewell to Leprat. Her face gradually became suffused with inexpressible grief, her voice took on inflexions that came from the blood, from the entrails; it was lacerated, agonized, and triumphant.Sound -- whether it be the spoken voice, the singing voice or music itself -- is the real force of haunting in this story of obsession and possession. There may be the imagined ghost of Faugères reaching out to them but for these people for whom sound is such an important part of their lives, for whom music is an energy more powerful than their love for each other, it is sound that will be their undoing.
|Danielle Darrieux (Eve) and Michel Auclair (Jean) in Meurtre en 45 tours (1960)|
This is my second favorite suspense novel by Boileau & Narcejac. It stands out as an example of that all too rare work in genre fiction -- an artistic crime novel. They continue to explore their favorite themes of obsessive love and guilty consciences, incorporate the ghost and haunting angle, and the powerful metaphoric use of music and sound makes it all sheer brilliance. Though it all ends in genuine tragedy the book also has very slight touch of the detective novel in the second murder investigation that ought to please the purists. If you are fortunate enough to find a copy I highly recommend this. I'd go so far as to claim that this is superior to their other two well known books made famous by the movies Vertigo and Les Diaboliques, but not quite at the same level as their masterpiece The Prisoner.