Pompidou Posse By Sarah Lotz
A brainwavez.org Literary Review

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 4 June 2009

Author Sarah Lotz's riveting debut novel is a sensational tale of two British teenagers on the run in Paris that features quirky characters, dark humour, and the seedy side of one of Europe's most glamorous cities.

Pompidou Posse by Sarah LotzA few years ago while Cape Town resident Sarah Lotz was completing a literary MA at the University Of Cape Town her lecturer, Mike Nicol, threw down the gauntlet at the publishers in attendance at the 2007 Cape Town Book Fair to read the novel she had just completed and publish it in time for the 2008 book fair. Penguin took up the challenge and the result was the publication of what had by that time become Sarah Lotz's much-anticipated debut novel, Pompidou Posse (and yes, Penguin managed to launch it a year later at the 2008 Cape Town Book Fair!).

Set in the late 80s, the central characters, teenagers Vicki and Sage, are on the run after burning down their art school's pottery shed. They flee England and end up in Paris, penniless and homeless. Forced to use their wits to survive and rely on the assistance of strangers, they find themselves in extraordinary (and sometimes dangerous) situations, meet an assortment of odd people, some of whom drift in and out of the story as part of their homeless "posse", and struggle to get through each day without being arrested or harmed by the odd situation in which they often find themselves.

The story is told from the perspective of both characters and it flips from one to the other as each new chapter starts, but we never get overlapping perspectives of any moment in the storyline as each chapter moves the story forwards. Vicki's story and insights are portrayed as staight narration, whereas Sage's perspective is offered as excerpts from her entries in "Gladys", as she affectionately calls her diary. This technique - in different ways - make us much more familiar with the characters and their motivations and their distinct personalities come through in the narratives, although, as the reader, you always feel closer to Vicki than Sage, who is always a bit more at a distance due to our indirect experience of her through her diary entries.

Sarah Lotz at The Book Lounge in Cape Town in 2008At times the book is deep and dark, and at others it's incredibly funny (but with an edge) and often heart wrenching as you watch these naive girls get themselves embroiled in dangerous situations as their spirit of adventure, intermingled with their need to survive, subverts common sense. What makes the book even more fascinating is that it is only a somewhat fictionalised tale as much of the story is a (from what I've heard often lighter) retelling of the experiences Lotz and a friend shared as homeless people in Paris in the 80s, after they fled England. Pompidou Posse was featured a few weeks after its launch at The Book Lounge [71 Roeland Street, Cape Town, email booklounge at gmail] and Lotz was interviewed as part of the book's introduction to the public. During the question-and-answer portion of the interview a number of audience members asked questions pertaining to how much of the book was fiction and how much was a retelling of events, which Lotz was hesitant to answer, because it seems that the truth is far worse than the fiction.

Nevertheless, this just makes Pompidou Posse more fascinating and engaging to read, especially if you are familiar with Paris and can visualise some of the locations that are referenced, as this tale really highlights the seedy side of the city, to which most tourists are completely oblivious.

What can I say? I love this book and it sets a high standard - and not only for debut novels. It is funny, scary, thrilling, and wild. I highly recommend it.

Sarah Lotz will be launching her latest novel, Exhibit A, at the 2009 Cape Town Book Fair, where she will also be available for book signings. Pompidou Posse is available locally in South Africa in good bookstores nationwide, or you can order it online through Kalahari.net, which ships internationally.

brainwavez.org Opinion
Rating: 8/10

Key Facts (Review Copy)
Title: Pompidou Posse
Author: Sarah Lotz
ISBN: 978-0-143-02571-9
Publisher: Penguin Books (South Africa)
Edition: First
Year: 2008 (June 2008)
Format: Softcover/Paperback
Pages: 355
Dimensions: 131x198x28mm (WxHxD)
Genre/Keywords: drama, fiction, humour, Paris

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