One of the most disconcerting and disorientating aspects of this book is that although it was originally published in France in 2020, where it was a bestseller and won the Prix Goncourt, it is a sort of science-fiction fable set in 2021. Effectively, then, it is book about an imaginary near future which by the time it reaches an Anglophone audience has already become the past.
As a member of Oulipo, Hervé Le Tellier would delight in such a twist. Oulipo is a Paris-based group of writers, mathematicians and artists founded in 1960. The name stands for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (‘Workshop for Potential Literature’), and the main aim of its members is to create new forms or even new genres of literature based on strict textual criteria. This usually means the imposition of deliberate constraints in writing to release new forms of expression; here Le Tellier uses ellipses and time lapses to keep the reader in a sense of tense anticipation. This is partly why his novel works so brilliantly: it is seamless in its construction and occasionally as thrilling as the best Netflix dramas. In fact television appears to be one of the biggest influences on