Book Review - People Like Them

The French-Algerian author (and actor) Samira Sedira believes that a writer’s role is not to judge or take sides, but to “attempt to get closer to the shadows”. Inspired by a 2003 murder case in a small French village, her taut novel, deftly translated by Lara Vergnaud, does precisely that.

Anna and Constant Guillot’s world is turned upside down when Bakary and Sylvia Langlois and their three children become the first black family to live in Carmac. We know from the start that Constant is guilty of their murder. It is the intersection of class and race that interests Sedira; what propelled his savage crime?

Although the Guillots swiftly befriend the Langlois family, it’s a troubled relationship from the outset. When Anna agrees to work as their cleaner, Sedira brilliantly conveys the damage inflicted by her subservient role. Constant’s resentment finally explodes after Bakary swindles him out of his parents’ €8,000 savings.

The Langloises’ otherness disrupts this order. They build an impressive chalet, and their expensive cars and generous hospitality are in stark contrast to their neighbours’ modest lives. Anna describes Bakary and Sylvia as “two silhouettes glued together and coming towards us like some supernatural entity”. Abbott and Costello cannot understand “why people like them would deliberately choose to live in a village like ours”. They are surprised that Bakary runs a travel agency: “a Black man couldn’t be the head of a company. The Black man worked for the white man, not the reverse.”

Sedira lays bare the perils of a callous society dominated by money and status, and the insidious racism that drives an ordinary man to murder. There are no monsters, she claims, “only humans”.

Originally published by The Observer