I wasn’t at all sure I’d read Samira Sedira’s People Like Them. It’s published under Bloomsbury’s crime imprint and I’m a crime watcher rather than a crime reader but it was the quote from Leila Slimani about its exploration of racism which made me think again. Based on a true story, Sedira’s novella is about the fallout of the brutal murder of a family of five, beautiful, rich and successful: the father, black; the mother, white.
The Langlois family make their first appearance in the remote French village of Carmac the day of Simon and Lucie’s wedding reception, a raucous affair at which they arrive late, unsure of their welcome. Bakary tells Anna that they plan to build a chalet in the village, that Sylvia has family in the area and that they’re tired of the city where their travel company specialising in luxurious adventures is based. Their new home is next door to Anna and Constant who get to know their neighbours well, becoming friends until at one of their lavish dinner parties Sylvia asks if anyone can recommend a cleaner and Anna suggests herself. As the balance of their friendship changes, Constant grows jealous of the closeness between Bakary and Simon, irked when it’s Simon who’s offered an investment opportunity and determined to be included. When it backfires, Constant’s simmering anger erupts with horrific results.
It was during that awful night that I realized that you had become inseparable from me, because I had loved you once, and because the story of your life had found the story of mine in a tragedy beyond repair
Sedira opens her book with Constant’s brutal murder of all five of the Langlois family before narrating the events that led up to it through Anna’s voice. The issue of race is handled with admirable subtlety, an undercurrent rather than explicitly expressed apart from the two old guys who hold up the local bar, pouring a ceaseless stream of jokes into the weary barman’s ear. Constant is a complex character both envious and admiring of the success enjoyed by Bakary and Sylvia, a success denied him by an accident that scuppered his chances of becoming a star athlete. The preference with which he sees Simon treated together with Anna’s decision to take on a menial job ignites a jealous fury with disastrous results. Sedira delivers her novel in a plain straightforward style, summoning up the French countryside beautifully, while conveying Anna’s distress, horror and incomprehension at what Constant has done. It’s a powerful, striking piece of fiction, both convincingly and skilfully delivered.
Bloomsbury Publishing: London 978152663860 192 pages Hardback