People Like Them by Samira Sedira (transl. Lara Vergnaud): An unthinkable crime

Cover image for People Like Them by Samira Sedira (transl Lara VergnaudI 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

16 thoughts on “People Like Them by Samira Sedira (transl. Lara Vergnaud): An unthinkable crime”

  1. This looks great, Susan, thanks. So important for us all to be learning more about racism through as many sources as possible. I’ll definitely be reading this one.

  2. I’m always a bit hesitant about fictionalised accounts of crime that’s in living memory but this does sound sensitively done. I hope the family and friends of the Langlois family felt OK with it. From WordsandPeace’s comment, maybe it even helped, if the racism wasn’t acknowledged within the trial.

    1. I think she may have written it because there was no mention of the possibility of racism in the trial, at least that’s what I deduced after following up the comment from WordsandPeace. Sedira is French/Algerian.

  3. I think I’m in a similar place to Madame Bibi, always feeling somewhat reluctant to read crime novels with contemporary settings — somehow, crimes committed in the 1930s, ’40s or ’50s seem relatively far removed from the reality of today). Nevertheless, this does sound very carefully executed, if you’ll excuse the pun. I’ll mention it to one of the chaps in my book group as he might be interested…

    1. Perhaps because I’m not a crime reader, I wouldn’t describe this one as a crime novel. it seemed much more about societal attitudes, particularly in rural France. I hope your co-book club member enjoys it if he decides to read it.

  4. I absolutely love that sense of surprise when one isn’t sure that a book will be a fit and, then, one’s quickly transported. I feel like that’s happened to me more this year than usual. And I got a little giggle out of your comment about being more of a crime watcher than reader; I am the same way usually, so I completely understood your point but, simultaneously, it does sound a little like you enjoy watching someone perpetrate a crime. Hee hee

    1. It’s good lesson in overcoming your prejudices isn’t it. Currently trying to wean myself off watching crime with series like The Queen’s Gambit and Call My Agent.

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