David Kolski, aged 42, is a left-leaning idealist. Employed as construction manager to oversee the erection of France’s tallest skyscraper, he narrates his determination to succeed in tandem with the development of his extramarital relationship with Victoria, the imperious head of human resources at a multinational company. It becomes clear within the first few pages of The Victoria System – Eric Reinhardt’s fifth novel and his first to be translated into English – that this is no conventional romance. The fact of Victoria’s death, in criminal circumstances, is tacked on after three self-reflexive clauses: ‘If … I had given up’; ‘if I had told her’; ‘if I could have known’. Essential information is given in passing, often in parentheses. There are flashbacks – to David’s modest upbringing, lofty student days and sexual encounters – which are later called into question by political or psychological commentary: ‘people like to accentuate the significance of their memories, particularly if they wish to excite the attention of the person they’re talking to’. Banal details (‘Victoria enters her PIN, takes her card and the receipts, and I pick up the paper bag’) vie with fantasies about the same transactions (‘It was a pretty erotic experience’).
Since his involvement in Victoria’s death (the exact circumstances of which remain unclear, perhaps even to him), David has been exiled to a hotel, alone but for a midnight flirtation with its owner and his memories. A modern Underground Man, David vacillates between egotism and ennui, ideals and delusions. He