Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi – Book Review

Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi - Book cover

“Three women lived in a village.
The first was mean, the second a liar, and the third an egotist.”

That’s how the prologue begins.

“The third, the youngest, was called Fanette Morelle; the second was called Stéphanie Dupain; the first, the oldest, that was me.”

And that’s how it ends.

A very clever start. It makes you curious, forcing you to read on to find out: perhaps the eldest isn’t as wicked, and the youngest isn’t as selfish. And what about Stephanie, the middle one? Admittedly, she’s a bit deceitful, but you probably wouldn’t be able to resist those lavender eyes. Another question is, Jacques, her jealous idiot of a husband would immediately thrust his hunting rifle under your nose. So, forget about her.

The blurb says that Michel Bussi’s “Black Water Lilies” is France’s most successful crime novel, which may well be true, as Monet’s name could generate a lot of publicity for it. (The story takes place in Giverny, where Monet lived and worked for 43 years.) And you end up learning quite a bit about Monet while waiting for the three storylines to converge. Maybe even more than you wanted. And the three storylines don’t really want to converge, although the old lady is entertainingly acerbic, Fanette is precocious and clever, so reading about their adventures isn’t that bad.

Stephanie’s husband is a suspect in a murder case, but the crime aspect is the thinnest part of this book, which theoretically is still a crime novel. It starts out that way, but then slowly transitions into a love drama, until it turns into melodrama towards the end. And sometimes you scratch your head because of the unnecessary detours (Monet or Sylvio’s wife) and inspector Serenac’s blunders. He’s theoretically the ace of the police force – practically, he’s a clueless guy who seems woefully unfit to lead any investigation. You don’t even understand why Lauretine, the retired cop, has been brought into the picture, whose few scenes could easily be done by Sylvio, Serenac’s hapless deputy, who would rather deserve to solve the case.

Then, in the last 60 pages, if you manage to hold out that long, which isn’t guaranteed, you realize that you’ve been thoroughly duped by Michel Bussi, as easily as pie. Especially if you’re inherently naive and gullible, like the writer of these lines, and can never guess who the killer is in advance. But even if you’re prepared for anything, you still find this trap you’ve been lured into GENIUSLY memorable. And with that, the whole novel becomes that way. (Well, memorable, not exactly genius.) And while not all the structural slip-ups are explained, you get explanations for quite a few previously not-so-well-thought-out things. And even if not all the blunders are forgiven, the rating of “Black Water Lilies” climbs up from a significantly less elegant grade to

7.2/10. (72%)

And what you absolutely didn’t expect, you get a bit of cathartic, bitter-sweet closure at the end, reminiscent of Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Damn, who would’ve thought?!

Well, let’s not faint from excitement.

Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi
350 pages, Hardcover
Published in 2017 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

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