Rites by Sophie Coulombeau


Title: Rites

By: Sophie Coulombeau

Publisher: Route Publishing

Released: 2012

Sophie Coulombeau has a talent for weaving a narrative. In this book she ropes together a captivating story out of the voices of several incrediably unreliable narrators. She uses this technique to explore many sides of a story, and to question the accuracy of collective memory. It reads a little like a combination of ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and ‘Lolita’.

Her characters are all reciting the same story, yet each version of it is slightly different; adding the texture of multiple layers to the novel. The characters each declare their statements in stop-start monologues, that directly refer to the reader as an investigator of some kind.

In this manner Coulombeau achieves what many crime writers fall short of. She gets inside the heads of the witnesses, culprits, victims and gossips; and treats their opinions equally. She even does this without the use of a policeman’s notebook, or the weary, Miss Marple-style speech of the culprit explaining everything at the end. Instead Coulombeau lets her characters speak of their own accord, and it a natural way, about what they think happened.

Coulombeau also has a keen eye for creating conspiracy. From the beginning, the reader finds themselves spotting little clues and discrepencies in each of the monologues. Coulombeau leaves gaps in the monologues, which reveal more about the charaters than what they actually say. Some gaps are as small as the reported colour of a popsicle; but as the plot goes on, the gaps become increasingly important, and gape unmistakably wide. However it is eventually only one word; that whether heard, or not heard, by the other characters could completely alter all of their lives. That word is ‘No’.

Coulombeau uses the monologues, to phrase a beautifully concise point on the power of words. Her characters explain that the word ‘no’, when said during the context of sexual intercourse, can make the difference between rape and an enjoyable shared activity. Coulombeau suggests that the words, especially when phrasing the law, define the severity of an offence. Yet all offences are real-world occurances. They physically happen. Coulombeau goes on to question how events that have physically happened, in real, three-dimensional space, can they be defined by the strength of some words printed in on paper?

Although Coulombeau leaves this question open for the reader to ponder themselves, she doesn’t stop her queries there. Having established that words are powerful, and sometimes hold more power than they maybe should, Coulombeau then begins to tear down her own theory. She now suggests that lies have resulted in the devaluation of words, since they can no longer be trusted. She comments on the process of confession, and religious sermons, and how people often no-longer even trust these, previously unquestionable, uses of words. There is a lack of belief in anything from her character’s, and this is possibly due to the proclivity of their exchanges of lies. Their lack of faith in the law, the church and politics grows with their age, and leads the characters to twist away from their former selves; also changing the reader’s perception of them. As a second climax the altered view of the characters,results in the novel taking on new themes. It is now about the character’s perception of everything in existence; although still all radiating from a disillusionment of reality, due to the questionable truths of a criminal act.






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