Bar Balto

Faïza Guène (Trans. by Sarah Ardizzone)
Chatto & Windus

Bar Balto is the third novel from the impressive young Faïza Guène, who wrote her first novel, Just Like Tomorrow, aged just 17. This new work is a gripping whodunit focused around the death of the unpleasant owner of the town’s only bar. Everyone has a reason to dislike Joël Morvier and no one is shy about offering opinions.

Told through a series of compelling monologues from each of the town characters, the suspense is sustained in an unusual and interesting manner. Guène has a mastery of tone and presents each of the locals in very distinct and unique voices; from the young girl who speaks in text talk to her French Armenian boyfriend who is all street, the characters are full of colour and wit.

A short and enjoyable read, Guène’s third novel is packed with energy and offers a darkly humorous insight into the outcasts in French society, with astute perceptions of the casual racism present in many aspects of small town life. The book is achingly modern and her writing is endlessly relatable to a contemporary audience, bringing social satire into a fresh light.

Bryony Byrne