There are several variations of this old saying, but that all go something to the effect of “A friend will help you hide but a great friend will help you hide the body.” In Yasmina Reza’s Babylon (smoothly translated by Linda Asher), we see the seeing play out over the course of 24 hours in a French city.
Elisabeth narrates the story of that very bad day in a highly confessional manner. Not only does she tells us what happened with her friend Jean-Lino, she also tells us about how they came to be friends, his family heritage, her troublesome father, and her vexed relationships with her mother and sister. She also tells us in detail about her efforts to create a lovely, lovely Spring Celebration party. The party is a success, except for a couple of uncomfortable moments. One of her husband’s work friends makes an ass of himself. Jean-Lino tells a story about his wife, Lydie, that embarrasses her.
Elisabeth doesn’t know anything is wrong until Jean-Lino comes down to the apartment she shares with her husband, Pierre, in the early hours of the morning to announce that he’s done something very stupid. He’s strangled Lydie and doesn’t know what to do. The sensible thing would be for Elisabeth and Pierre to call the police and let them deal with it. Elisabeth does not do the sensible thing. We get the sense from her confessions that she has a connection with Jean-Lino that she doesn’t have with anyone else. She feels like she’s found a true friend in him. So, she tries to help.
The plot of Babylon drifts back and forth through time as Elisabeth tells us what she thinks we need to know to understand why she didn’t just call the police. I’m not quite sure if Elisabeth is normally chatty or if she’s verbose because of nerves or if she’s just interested in rationalizing her behavior. I suspect its up to us readers to act as Elisabeth’s judge and jury. Speaking for myself, I’m can return a verdict that Babylon is a fascinating character study of an unusual woman.
Note on the translation: Linda Asher’s translation is wonderfully transparent. There were no strange word choices or weird word order to remind me that I was reading a work originally written in French. Reading Babylon was like being in a confession booth with Elisabeth.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.