Original language: French
Original title: The man without a face
Translation: Joseph French
Year of publication: circa 1910
The Chance. Thus, with capital letters. According to the RAE, a combination of circumstances that cannot be foreseen or avoided. Well, okay, coincidences exist, and if something exists, you can (should) write about it, either as a main topic or as a resource. But tell me, tell me, let’s see what you think of this Coincidence (there is a small spoiling of the first two or three pages of the novel, but since it occurs so early I hope you can forgive me): a man finds himself accused of a false crime and that same day in the afternoon, without seeking it or drinking it, he receives the proposal to live a millionaire’s life under another identity in exchange for marrying a beautiful young woman. The Chance. How good this particular one was for our protagonist. And how good all the subsequent ones are for the plot, practically one per chapter.
It seems correct and even interesting, depending on the occasion and the way, to use chance as a trigger to develop an argument; What I refuse to do is accept as a legitimate resource the systemic use of coincidences as a systemic element throughout the plot, since the only thing it achieves is turning a story into a bad soap opera, or more currently, into a soap opera. It reminds me of that feeling that I hate in television series, where the world is reduced to six or seven people and everything happens to them and between them…
If we excuse this narrative technique, the truth is that for the rest it is quite good; The bad thing is that there is a lot to apologize for. It is one of those books where you must train your ability to suspend credibility: I am very well trained thanks to Anne Rice’s books, if you like superhero movies, for example, you probably will be too.
Personally, I love these typical novels from the late 20th century. XIX, beginning of the century. XX, when the crime novel genre begins to develop and has not yet completely separated itself from the suspense and horror genres. The collection of Gothic novels from the Valdemar publishing house comes to mind, with such good examples that it illustrates what I am trying to explain.
In terms of structure, the novel is divided into two parts of equal length, one in America and the other in Europe, the king of the mad and the king of the sane. There is a certain beauty in this symmetry, and displays of talent scattered throughout the rest of the book, at no point does it fall into Lovecraftian excesses or indulge in the morbid, despite the opportunities for it: judging by this work, Boissière was a good writer who knew the job.
Peppered the novel (at least my translation from Ediciones Rueda) with a strange use of the comma, secularisms (“I want to give her something”, squeak on glass No. 36 in d minor) and the occasional misspelling, the total set I classify as entertaining, nothing more. It neither wants nor intends to leave a mark, but it is a good option to read between heavier or more difficult to digest works. And surely better.