Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Gaetan Soucy

It's hard to write about Quebecois Gaetan Soucy's haunting gem of a novel without giving away spoilers because so much is hidden from the reader at the outset. The story is told in first person by one of a pair of siblings  raised by their mentally ill father in total isolation from the rest of the world. When their father commits suicide, the pair of teenagers are forced to interact with other people and to face the reality of their past.

I admire translator Sheila Fischman for her skillful and lyrical rendition from French into English. The siblings' peculiar vocabulary and idiosyncratic use of language is evident in this explanation of mannikins and how they differ from people ('neighbours'):

"We called them halves because they had only a body, made of wax and wood. They lacked the portion of their insides that allows one to suffer and so to call oneself a full-fledged neighbour, if I'm making myself clear. We can also name them dummies, that's allowed, although it's not as strong and not as accurate, and you don't do speech any favour to associate with words that rattle around in your sleeve after the handshake."

A reviewer in Le Monde wrote, "While the tale becomes more explicit as it progresses, it also becomes more bewitching, more mysteriously pulsating." The title is a clue to the tragedy at the heart of this story. Be prepared for a series of surprising jolts, and for horror leavened with a sparkling hope that comes from the unforgettable voice of the unusual narrator.


Claire G said...

Are mannikins significant in the story, or just a fleeting example? I'm wondering because Sylvia Waugh's The Mennyms sprang to mind the instant you talked about this distinction between humans and 'halves'.

Lindy said...

I used the mannikins excerpt to illustrate the style of language, choosing a piece that would not give away the plot. I'm not familiar with The Mennyms, but the distinction between humans and halves in Soucy's book is important in that it shows that the siblings do have some grasp of reality.