My vibrations will live on


When you die, does your soul pass into another's? Flavières would once have said no. Once a straightforward-thinking policeman, a terrible accident during a rooftop pursuit of a suspect made him forsake the service for the life of a private investigator. But when he falls in love with his best friend's wife Madeleine, who he's trying to protect from herself, and who seems to be channeling the spirit of a suicidal ancestor Pauline, what should he believe? And when Madeleine finally succeeds in killing herself, only for Flavières to find Renée who resembles her to an uncanny degree, what can he think then? Is Pauline truly Madeleine, and Madeleine truly Renée, though the grave separates them all?

Not a word is wasted in this taut, chilling thriller that inspired the Hitchcock film. Initially released in the French as D'Entre les Morts and translated as The Living and the Dead, the book is now typically found under the title of its cinematic equivalent. Flavières moves swiftly and unstoppably, more a plummet than a controlled journey, through the weighty scenes of the case, and the disintegration of his rational mind is frightening to behold. Different locations have their leitmotive in the text, with the fatefulness of the village church contrasting with the warm sleepiness of post-war Marseilles. Every new chapter is a surprise, with twists and turns that are as easy to follow as they are hard to predict.

An updated translation might be welcome: speech is occasionally stilted, even for the 1940s, and it might be said that there's a French frankness of discussion that seems out of place in the English. But even in its current form Vertigo is a terrible, frightening joy to read, a sweet but poisoned chalice that keeps its most complex flavour until the very last drop.