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Crawl Space

by Edie Meidav
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publishing date: 13/06/2006
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780312425753
  • ISBN: 0312425759


Winner of the Bard Fiction Prize
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
An Electric Review Best Book of the Year
A ReadySteadyBook Best Book of the Year
It's 1999 and Emile Poulquet awaits sentencing in a Paris court for deporting thousands to almost certain death during World War II. But, haunted by ghosts from his former life, and determined to confront his dark legacy, he escapes and heads toward his beloved Finier, a rural town in the south of France where he once served as prefect. His return will have explosive consequences.
By turns reflective and slyly humorous, Crawl Space poignantly describes one man's tragic attempt to come to terms with the past.
Edie Meidav is the author of The Far Field: A Novel of Ceylon. Winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction by an American Woman, she teaches at the New College of California and is currently in residence at Bard College.
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
It's 1999 and Emile Poulquet awaits sentencing in a Paris court for deporting thousands to almost certain death during World War II. But haunted by ghosts from his past, and determined to confront his dark legacy, he escapes and heads toward his beloved Finier, a rural town in the south of France where he once served as prefect. His return will have explosive consequences.

In Finier, Poulquet finds shelter within the strange embrace of a group of teenage wastrels, and encounters new breeds of idealism, degeneracy, and friendship. He sets out to find Arianne—a lifelong obsession and the widow of a Resistance hero—in order to hand her his last will and testament. But as he begins his quest, he cannot help being drawn, inexorably, toward another circle of refugees and reporters in town for a wartime reunion. He doesn't yet know that his worst betrayal—and the greatest test of his own ability to pardon another—is yet to come.

By turns epic and intimate, reflective and slyly humorous, Crawl Space limns the gray zone between past and future. Edie Meidav poignantly describes one man's tragic attempt to come to terms with the past.
"Meidav's seriousness and energy demand . . . that we hold her novel to the highest standards."—Sam Munson, The New York Times Book Review
"In her energy as a writer, Meidav floats so many issues, throws so many balls in the air, that she runs the risk of anti-climax. Can the final meeting with Arianne, for example, carry the weight Poulquet puts on it as he travels toward it? Some novelists have the capacity, the narrative goodwill and the generosity to override and allay such readerly qualms. In this accomplished novel, Meidav shows herself to be one of that happy company."—Thomas Keneally, The Washington Post
"In her remarkable second novel, Edie Meidav revisits the French occupation and distills it into a heart-chilling tale of love and hate."—Thomas Meaney, Los Angeles Times
"Meidav's novel demonstrates her considerable gifts as a stylist; there's not a false note in the prose, and those who relish fine writing, as well as anyone interested in European history, will find much to admire in Crawl Space."—Timothy Peters, San Francisco Chronicle
"In her new novel, Edie Meidav has created a vivid panorama of the modern world, refracted through an amazingly intricate character. The secrets of history, the unrequited loves and betrayals, the disgraces and disappointments and confusions—all are revived for Emile Poulquet, who, in trying to escape his past, runs headlong into the trap of memory and guilt. Crawl Space is the work of a fearless writer with a cosmic imagination."—Joanna Scott
"Powerful . . . An ambitious and distinguished first novel."—Chitra Divakaruni, Los Angeles Times
"A richly detailed and lyrical epic . . . Despite its imaginative scope and intellectual heft, the book moves as rapidly as a thriller."—Adriana Leshko, Harper's Bazaar
"It's rare to find an embodiment of the proverbial quest for authenticity as perfectly realized as it is in . . . Edie's Meidav's rich, roiling first novel."—Melanie Rehak, Newsday
"Sophisticated . . . Capacious and a good deal of fun."—Emily Barton, San Francisco Chronicle
"Emile Poulquet, age 84, a former official of France's World War II Vichy regime, condemned thousands of fellow citizens to death camps. After decades of hiding and several plastic surgeries, he is apprehended and tried but not convicted for lack of anyone who could identify him. After escaping from the Paris prison in which he might be taken for a new trial, Poulquet returns to the scene of his crimes, a town in southern France. This quintessential French bureaucrat spends the rest of the novel rationalizing his conduct while tracking down past acquaintances. Meeting up with a band of teenage 'wastrels' who offer shelter and companionship, he little suspects that he faces the biggest betrayal of all. Meidav skillfully exposes the criminal mind that refuses to accept responsibility for its acts and instead blames the victim. A highly impressive and original treatment of the Holocaust."—Edward Cone, Library Journal
"Meidav embeds the reader in the mind of a narcissistic, self-loathing, obsessive, vengeful narrator—a French Nazi collaborator-whose oddly compelling voice is the achievement of this complex novel. As prefect of the small town of Finier during WWII, Emile Poulquet zealously helped the Nazis compile lists of Jews for deportation to concentration camps. In 1999, at the age of 84 and after decades as a fugitive, Poulquet eludes conviction in a Paris trial—the intervening years and reconstructive facial surgery make him unidentifiable by witnesses. He then returns to Finier to exact revenge on the object of his obsession, Arianne Fauret, a resistance widow whom he considers a lifelong tormentor. His mad scheme is to make Arianne—who now directs a foundation to reclaim war memory—the executor of his last will and testament, thereby forcing her to accept his version of personal and historical events. Meidav's narrative jumps from Poulquet's wartime years to the more convoluted story of his modern-day return to Finier, when he falls in with a band of misfit teenage squatters, and events come to a head around a wartime memorial event. With a tale both chilling and comical, Meidav considers the struggle to define history."—Publishers Weekly

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  • An Enduring Achievement
    From Amazon

    The enduring accomplishment of this novel is the creation of Emile Poulquet, a fascinating character like no other in contemporary literature. Meidav boldly brings us into the mind of a functionary of the French occupation who cooly sent hundreds (?) to their death during World War II. Poulquet is repulsive at times, sly and funny at others, but he is never banal. She does not shrink from showing the extent of his ugliness, but she also makes her fugitive from justice oddly sympathetic. He is vulnerable, imaginative, passionate and horribly self-deluded. His justifications for his actions are comically absurd, but the exploration of his self-loathing is so penetrating, he comes to seem one of us, a very human monster. This is a courageous book; Meidav insists on moral complexity, and forces us to confront our own capacity for betrayal & cowardice. That she does so with great wit, brio and inventiveness makes Crawlspace delightful as well as sobering.

  • Stunning exploration
    From Amazon

    Ms. Meidav has convincingly told the story of a man of another generation, another culture and another moral system. Each thought, feeling and moment presented to the reader is supported by genuine evidence, including recollection of past events. Those past events are often selected with such a keen sense of their significance and with such vividness that reading the novel has a wonderfully eerie quality. The novel ties into truths far beyond the words on the page and invites--almost compels--the reader to think. None of this is achieved at the expense of telling an interesting story that is unfolding in the present moment, and through this effective duality of past and present, the author achieves a meaningful exploration of morality, history, culture, the human mind, and most of all the human heart. It is a book worthy of reading more than once and its release in hardcover is an appropriate acknowledgement of its durability.

  • Actual literature in 2005
    From Amazon

    If books were sold according to how good they were, you'd have to lay out at least a hundred bucks for this sucker. Fortunately that's not the case. Not a fast paced thriller, this book takes the time to do it right. The one big disadvantage you'll suffer from if you read it is that most everything else you've ever read (and probably ever will read)is going to seem like cheap junk. That's OK, that devilish little bargain is well worth it. I'll leave it to other reviewers to spoil the plot for you.

  • deep character study of a Nazi butcher
    From Amazon

    From 1940-1945, Emile Poulquet served as the Prefecture of Finier in which he exiled thousands to die. After the War, he had cosmetic surgery to disguise himself by eliminating the facial hump his father thought personified evil, but would identify him to authorities on their Nazi sympathizer witch-hunt. In 1999, the authorities catch eight-four years old Emile, who stands trial for his role in genocide over five decades earlier. However, he remains spry and sharp, and escapes. Emile takes the train south to Finier. In the train's lavatory he writes his last will to give to his Arianne, a resistance hero's widow, for he expects that upon returning for the first time since he spent a month there in 1960, this will end his odyssey. In Finier, Emile is sidetracked by the town's wartime reunion that touches his withered soul as he knows he can never participate though he obsesses with the need to join even at the cost of his wasted life. CRAWL SPACE is a deep character study of an octogenarian who knows that even death will not eliminate the guilt that haunts him. His need to "go home" grips readers, but Emile knows that he can never truly go home. Interestingly he feels more remorse over one incident than over sending thousands to their certain death as the latter is more a statistical consequence of his job while the former was caused by his emotions. Edie Meidav does the impossible turning a Nazi butcher into a sympathetic protagonist though the audience will believe he deserves an abode in hell; Emile would affirm that a life with no place to call home is hell. Harriet Klausner

  • Exploring the Monster
    From Amazon

    I have been looking for a book which treats World War II in an original manner, and have found it in Crawl Space. In accessible but deep prose, Meidav (whose novel, The Far Field, about Sri Lanka, I also enjoyed even with its thick poetic language) sets forth on a journey which leads me to question my own sensibilities and assumptions, along the way giving me all sorts of interesting insights into France and various complexities related to war and memory and tribalism. I will recommend this book to everyone I know.

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