“It was here that I was dying,” appears on the first page of René Belletto’s novel Dying. And in the end this is really nothing more than a thesis statement for what is more meditation than novel. While reading Dying, I was often reminded of another work that seems to challenge genre conventions: Minotaur, by Israeli novelist Benjamin Tammuz. Dying mixes and matches its genre influences throughout. Though elements of adventure and spy narratives are prevalent, the foundation of the story is romance, much like Tammuz’ masterpiece. But instead of presenting a great novel of love and desire as Tammuz did, Belletto indulges more in philosophy. Dying reads less as a novel than a journal of fictional thoughts exploring a theme.

Paris is murder in August. It’s the month when everyone leaves town and abandons the city to the tourists. Hotels fill with an assortment of American accents (the Germans have all gone to England); waiters, at least at the restaurants that remain open, spend far too long explaining the difference between service compris and service non compris. It’s a hot month, a dead month, the Seine gets punky, and every man and woman who’s leaving on this first day of August—meaning pretty much everyone—in fact on this first page of Coda—is right now sitting in traffic, anticipating their arrival at their vacation home in the Midi or some prefab bungalow bought for a small fortune in the Auvergne, next to the neighbors with the goats and loud children. To come to Paris in August is to come to a city nakedly out of sorts. But in the latest novel by René Belletto to be translated into English, it’s where we’ve just arrived.