Review: Hell’s Gate by Laurent Gaude


About the Author

Laurent Gaude is a French novelist and playwright.  He studied theatre and has written many dramatic works. In 2002, he was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt for The Mort du Roi Tsongor, winning it two years later for his novel, Le Soleil des Scorta.

About the Book

Publisher Description:  A thrilling story of love, loss, revenge and redemption that will change the way to think about death and what lies beyond.  When his son is killed by gangsters’ crossfire on his way to school, Neapolitan taxi driver Matteo and his wife Giuliana are consumed by grief and despair.  As the couple grows estranged, Matteo meets a mysterious priest who claims to know the entrance to the underworld and is willing to take him. The journey to the land of the dead is a dangerous one and will take more than Matteo bargained for.

272 pages, publication date April 2017. Translated from the French by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken.

My rating: 4 (out of 5)

My review

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publisher, Gallic Books, in return for an honest review.

This is a strangely unnerving little book, blending a story of loss and vengeance with elements of magical realism and questions about the nature of life and death.  Gaude powerfully depicts the impact on Matteo and his wife, Guiliana, of their son’s death; how despair “stalked them constantly, surprising them at moments they least expected” with revenge becoming “the only form their love could take”. However, their emotional responses become markedly different. Matteo is consumed by guilt, constantly reliving the day his son was shot and wondering about “the minute microscopic changes that could have altered the course of events”.  Guiliana’s response is implacable anger – at the man who killed their son, at the sympathy of friends and relatives, even at God for allowing it to happen – becoming like some avenging angel or heroine of Greek tragedy.   Her challenge, “Bring me my son, Matteo. Bring him back to me” sees Matteo embark on a Dantesque journey in the company of four companions in pursuit of the idea that life and death are not distinct states but that portals exist to allow travel between the two. Gaude’s depiction of this journey blends elements of a Miltonic view of Hell with the mythology of the Greek underworld but is recounted as if it is real leaving the reader to wonder if the subsequent events should be accepted as fact or as a manifestation of intense grief. A thought provoking read that I admired rather than loved.




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