AN HONOURABLE EXIT by Éric Vuillard
Translated by Mark Polizzotti
There is very little to distinguish Éric Vuillard’s brand of fictionalised reportage from straight-up history. An editorial quip here. The odd caustic remark there. Common to all four books of his I’ve read is this ability to inhabit, if I may borrow from Hamilton, “the room where it happened.” Whether it be Chamberlain’s great diplomatic failure in The Order of the Day or the mobilisation of the peasant class by a sixteenth Century church maverick in The War of the Poor, Vuillard becomes both witness and chief prosecutor through simple but sharp observation. Think Zola meets Édouard Louis.
An Honourable Exit takes us to the French halls of power in the lead up to the fall of Điện Biên Phủ. Knowing that the war is all but lost but desperate to sure up their financial interests, the French powerbrokers search for a dignified way out. It is a parade of gobsmacking hubris and callousness, where Vietnamese lives count for nothing next to the well-lined pockets of their former colonisers. Through simple documentary rigour, Vuillard talks truth to power. It’s a remarkable feat. Plus I can tick one more historical episode off my “What Did Billy Joel Mean?” checklist.
An Honourable Exit by Éric Vuillard (Tr. Mark Polizzotti)