Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Attention, Les Enfants Regardent

Should I put a SPOILER warning on a 43 year old book?  Well, maybe just in case.

I guess the best genre to classify Attention, Les Enfants Regardent ("The Children are Watching") in would be "thriller."  The plot definitely deserves credit for being unique.  While their Hollywood-producer parents are on a long vacation, a group of 5 children are left under the supervision of their housekeeper.  The kids are downright obsessed with television, watching it from the minute they wake up until they have to go to bed, with an elaborate system of who gets to decide what to watch and a heavily-notated T.V. Guide.  One day, after locking the kids out of the T.V. room and pocketing the key, the heavily-hungover housekeeper falls asleep on an air mattress on the beach behind the house.  The exact sequence of events that follows is not 100% clear to me because of my French comprehension limitations, but basically, in trying to retrieve the key from the functionally unconscious housekeeper, the kids end up pushing her out into the water where she floats away. Later, her body will turn up on the beach, leaving the kids a) terrified they'll be arrested and b) overjoyed to have the freedom to eat what they want, watch what they want, and sleep when they want.  I think if real Hollywood got ahold of this plot today they would turn it into a slapstick comedy full of food-fight montages, but in this novel it's treated as a very tense subject: especially when the housekeeper's menacing boyfriend starts nosing around and, realizing the kids are alone, barges into the house and starts sleeping in their parents bed and examining their gun collection.  The effective tension that continues through the novel is whether the kids' action will be discovered, will their parents make it home, will the housekeeper's boyfriend explode in a fit of rage, etc.  Overall, an effective story that is slightly reminiscent of Lord of the Flies and Misery.  The major subtext is the kids' fascination with television, something I think about myself now that my son is a T.V. zombie some mornings!  I should note that I'm not sure about the novel's portrayal of Mexicans.  Both the housekeeper and her menacing boyfriend are Mexicans, and there's a lot of discussion by tertiary characters about Mexicans in general; my language skills aren't good enough to tell if this book is intended as an authentic evocation of discrimination in upper-class L.A. neighbourhoods or should be taken as racist in itself.

No comments: