Book Review

Pascale Robert-Diard: Autopsy of a Lie

A 15-year-old girl accuses a man of rape then withdraws her testimony five years later. Pascale Robert-Diard, a journalist and legal correspondent for French daily Le Monde, and the author of several books on major trials and the French justice system, holds a mirror up to society in her disquieting debut novel. The work was shortlisted for the 2022 Prix Goncourt and is being published in English this month.
© Céline Nieszawer/Leextra/L’Iconoclaste

It all seemed so clear. Lisa Charvet, a high school student in a regional town in France, accused local plasterer Marco Lange of raping her. Everyone, from her teachers to her parents, believed her story, and the accused attacker was sentenced to ten years in prison. But five years later, as the verdict is being appealed, the young adult decides to change her legal counsel. She chooses Alice Keridreux – a world-weary lawyer in her fifties accustomed to the criminal courts – because she wants to be represented by a woman. The theatrical twist comes a few days before the start of the new trial. After Alice asks her client to go back over her story in chronological order, Lisa suddenly confesses that she had lied. Is the victim about to become the guilty party?

Given the topic, readers may fear a denunciation of how #MeToo accusations caused collateral damage. But nothing in Pascale Robert-Diard’s debut novel is completely black and white – perhaps with the exception of Mr. Théry, the attorney for the accused rapist, a veteran lawyer who longs for the way things used to be. As an expert of the wheels and cogs of the justice system, from major trials to arraignments, the novelist and journalist builds her story on the confrontation between two women from different generations and social backgrounds. Alice, whose children are now adults, is uncomfortable with the feminist demands of today’s young women. Meanwhile, Lisa, a teenager who was bullied and abused for the early physical changes of adolescence, finds a way to exist through her status as a victim.

From the first meeting to the hours before the defense speech, Pascale Robert-Diard helps us see through the eyes of a lawyer wracked with doubt, unpicking the mechanics of a lie and revealing what each person projects onto this story – for both the right and wrong reasons.

The Little Liar by Pascale Robert-Diard, translated from French by Adriana Hunter, Other Press, February 20, 2024. 192 pages, 15.99 dollars.

Article published in the February 2024 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.