Big thank you to Little, Brown Book Group for sending me a proof of the first volume of the Saint-Étienne Quartet, Savages: The Wedding.
A Saturday in May. Paris.
It’s the eve of the French presidential elections – ‘The Election of the Century’ say the newspaper headlines – and Chaouch, the nation’s first Arab candidate, has victory in his sights. It has been a long campaign, and with his wife Esther and daughter Jasmine by his side, he spends the remaining hours with close advisors in a hotel in Nimes. Much of the dinner table chatter revolves around Jasmine’s boyfriend; Fouad Nerrouche, a well-known actor with the same Algerian origins as her father, who has just publicly endorsed Chaouch’s candidacy. However shallow it may seem, it’s difficult to ignore the influence of celebrity support in this complex and unpredictable race…
The same day. Saint-Etienne.
The Nerrouche family is frantically preparing for a grand wedding, and Fouad himself is there to help out. But younger cousin Krim – who has recently lost his job – is becoming increasingly agitated, and no one knows why. As the day goes on, it becomes clear that the cousin’s problems go far deeper than unemployment. Krim has been stealing from a local gang leader and after being discovered, found himself indebted to his powerful cousin, Nazir – Fouad’s brother. Nazir is a very shady figure, and is heavily involved in a dark underworld of crime. Together, their plans will cause Fouad’s two very different worlds to meet in a way no one would have dared to imagine. Within a few hours, the threads start to unravel, and the collision between the destiny of a family and the hopes of a country becomes inevitable.
One word: unputdownable. I absolutely devoured the first instalment in Sabri Louatah’s political thriller series in just over two hours.
Originally written in French, the translation is seamless and Louatah’s characters are full of life. Savages: The Wedding is extremely character orientated with the action taking a little bit of back seat in favour of establishing the key players. This is to be expected when setting up a saga and I think that, on the whole, Louatah manages to pull off all the scene setting and character introductions in an engaging way despite the seemingly overwhelming large ensemble. Never fear, for as we weave our way through the streets of France, each character develops their own traits and qualities that makes them easy to distinguish.
After the recent disappointment of BBC’s McMafia, I was keen to get stuck in with Savages: The Wedding. It was fast-paced and intriguing, giving several occasional glimpses of just how action-packed and brutal this thriller will become in the future.
The social and political relevancy of Louatah’s story mixed with his vibrant cast of character makes Savages: The Wedding a particular engrossing read. It’s no surprise that Louatah has already been compared to the likes of Philip Roth, Knausgaard and Zadie Smith as despite the lack of wham-bam action in this first novel, Louatah manages to sustain interest and leave you feeling hungry for more. I loved the tense drama of the wedding and the odd dash of humour Louatah brings to the story primarily through the character of Karim.
With the TV rights already sold to Chic Films and Canal+, I’m excited to see where Louatah takes us and his characters in the next instalment.