Constellation, the debut novel from 30 year-old magazine founder and editor Adrien Bosc, has already been heaped with praise from all angles. An international bestseller in its original French language edition, the book won the Academie Francaise Prize. It was also a recipient of an English PEN Award that paid, at least in part, for the English translation we now see before us. Add to that the high praise that is scrawled all over the sleeve, from the Wall Street Journal, Publishers’ Weekly, and Stuart Evers (to name but a few), and it’s probably fair to say that expectations are high.
It’s easy to see why in the book’s early stages. The premise alone is the kind of thing that gets prize panels purring and filmmakers searching for a scriptwriter. The novel, which mixes fact and fiction, focuses on the 1949 crash of an Air France Lockheed Constellation plane which left no survivors. Bosc does a beautiful and respectful job of dramatising the crash and the thought processes of those involved, and it becomes obvious that we’re in the hands of a talent.
What takes this book to another level, at least for a while, is Bosc’s delicate imagining of the reaction to the crash. By both those left behind and in the imagined voices of the victims. Bosc uses the book to bring those many forgotten passengers back to life for a short time, telling us what they achieved while they were living and imagining what they might have gone on to do if it wasn’t for the tragedy.
This crash reached worldwide attention, largely, because of one particular passenger. Marcel Cerdan was a heavyweight boxer on his way to America for a title fight. He was having an affair with Edith Piaf. But, as well as Bosc represents this boxing champion, it is his focus on Ginette Neveu that brings about the book’s most heart rendering moments. Neveu was a virtuoso violinist flying from one concert to another and when this author laments the loss of her music the reader laments alongside him.
Any Cop?: Unfortunately, though, the novel as a whole does lose momentum as it continues. The beauty of the beginning is always lurking, but there begins to be less weight behind it as we go back and forth over the same details. It would be harsh to go much further with this criticism, because there is a lot of potential on display in this brave and unique work. But the fact that it drifts a little, rather than continuing to pull you further in, means that it falls a little short of classic debut status.