The Loss of Options

Joseph Incardona

French, Éditions Finitude, 2020

“So let’s imagine a film. That’s both the advantage and the drawback of our age, when words mostly refer to images already seen. To a bank of images containing our imagination. There’s less and less scope for the new, for what hasn’t yet been seen. So we’re going to watch this film we’ve already seen, already heard, with its references to… But never mind, I’m going to say something anyway. Say something with the means available, this territory of the soul that’s being taken from us, that’s being lost to us with each day that passes. The virginal part of ourselves.”

Geneva, on the threshold of the 1990s. Neoliberal society is flourishing, and much of the world has lost faith in everything but money, the single god that has taken the place of the old deities. Wealth, profit and power are the key components of an infernal machine in the shape of a novel, a machine running at full throttle. And only love, as essential as it is beyond reach, can attain the sublime, or destroy everything.

Noir fiction, thriller, crime novel? These might be the reader’s first impressions from the flyleaf. Yet the tenor of Joseph Incardona’s twelfth novel (Éditions Finitude, 2020) is clear from page one: ‘This is a love story.’ That statement is important, proud and paradoxical: in contrast, the story opens in a world where love is conspicuous only by its absence. While we may fancy we glimpse it in a conversation, or in a look, closer inspection swiftly reveals that money and power rule the roost, underpinned by the principles of manipulation and domination.

We are in Geneva, in 1989. A cold microcosm, where Aldo Bianchi is a tennis tutor and Svetlana Novák holds a key post in a major bank. Two radically different paths in life that nonetheless converge. Drawn into the same vast money-trafficking operation, both dreaming of the big time, Aldo and Svetlana are fated to meet.

And that is only to be expected, for The Loss of Options is a novel that hinges on fate. As the cover design suggests, it is like a vast machine whose cogwheels are human – all too human. Everything that happens is both cause and effect. The protagonists, lacking free will, fuel the implacable machine blindly and unreflectingly: ‘The mistake you made was to put a finger in the gear system, Svetlana, and the gears have seized your body and crushed your pride.’

The great engineer behind this mechanism is the narrator. All-knowing and all-powerful, he plays with his characters and his readers alike. The deus ex machina in a godless world depicted with a lucidity so clear-eyed as to be cruel, he observes his protagonists’ helpless struggles, refrains from intervention, but analyses what he sees. And thus he elevates the burden of his narrative – and its execution – to the highest level of art, aware that the best his characters can do is ‘raise their drama to the status of a tragedy’.

‘All things tend naturally towards disorder.’ Both the universe and machines are subject to entropy. Human beings, in their vaulting ambition, believe that their options for making a mark on the world are bound to increase. But Joseph Incardona, in an insight presented as the title of his novel, makes the opposite claim. The more time passes, the more our bodies age, and the more the machine malfunctions. Only love seems to escape the system, a love that can be neither ‘purchased nor possessed’ in the absence of grace. And so, contrary to appearances, love is the only real motive force in this story. It is love that inspires the precision and robustness of style needed to tell it. It is love that, while it may not offer a way out, enables its few chosen ones to approach greatness.

Text by Valentin Kolly

La soustraction des possibles
Éditions Finitude
Translation rights
Emmanuelle Boizet,
Publication date
January 2020


Joseph Incardona

Joseph Incardona, the son of an Italian father and a Swiss mother, was born in 1969. An author, scriptwriter, director and producer, he has written twelve novels, two collections of short stories and three plays. He is also the co-producer, with Cyril Bron, of Milky Way, a feature film which won the Prix du film policier de Liège. Joseph Incardona’s works have been translated into some ten languages. He lives in Geneva.

Photo: Sandrine Cellard