A few of us have noted here that Emile Poulquet is evil. Lucky for him, he’s constructed a history for himself that omits the reality of his Vichy functionarydom -- late in the book, when he reveals he sent his best friend to the camps, he cannot express regret:
I did not think through the implications of my checkmark. But my pen was capable and confident. Israel Horwitz Lisson. I checked it. A single stroke of the pen. . That was all.
He is definitely evil. But as OGIC noted, Poulquet is also charming and old-world and a fascinating narrator.
Yet it seems to me that the book does much more than reveal Poulquet’s inner workings. As it opens, he has skipped out on his trial: he is evading authorities, broke, connecting with no one for fear of being detected. He’s fallen into the same circumstances as the Jews in his Vichy prefecture. “Crawl Space” the title refers not just to Poulquet’s late hideout, but to his life lived after WWII: marginal, watchful, dark and cold.
Could it be that Poulquet’s real punishment has been his post WWII life? Did Poulquet stop being human when he checked those names? Does he deserve the opportunity to “get some living in” that the wastrels provide him? If Poulquet is evil, is the resistance fighter who executed his compatriots less so? Does one wastrel kid's betrayal of Poulquet have any moral connection to Poulquet's betrayal of thousands of Jews, or is it justice, or both?
For me, these questions make Crawl Space, which is a beautifully written work, all the more engaging.