Saturday, August 17, 2013

Madeleine and the Angel by Jacqueline Dumas

I recently re-read Jacqueline Dumas' award-winning first novel, Madeleine and the Angel, because I'll be seeing a Fringe play tomorrow that is a continuation of this story. (More about that later.) My first reading must have been more than 20 years ago because I was in a book group that discussed it shortly after it came out and the publication date is 1989. What we get from the same piece of writing changes as we grow older. I remember really liking the book before. Now, I think I appreciate it even more.

It's a harrowing novel about two sisters growing up in Edmonton in the mid-20th century with francophone parents who are mentally ill. Pauline and Maria Goretti lived with abuse, uncertainty and poverty. Their father, Michel Gauthier, heard divine voices. Their mother, Madeleine, explained to the girls that their father was sometimes inhabited by the devil and sometimes by an angel.

Pauline, the narrator, is looking back on her life from a safe vantage point. She's a single mother with a young daughter. She knows that Madeleine is in a hospital bed 1,000 miles away, but she refuses to go to her.

One time when she was younger, exasperated by her mother's continual excuses for their father's erratic behaviour, Pauline snapped at her. "Oh for heaven sakes, mom. He's not tired, he's drunk."

"She slapped me. 'Don't you dare talk about your father like that! How can you say such a thing, how can you even think such a thing? He doesn't drink, you know that; the Angel gives him medicine - for his heart.'"

Pauline's father explained puberty to her:

"It is my father who tells me about the bleeding. My mother does not speak of such things as deodorants or sanitary napkins.
Because you're getting tits now there's some things I have to explain to you. He paces back and forth looking down, as if the appropriate words are to be located somewhere on the floor. He takes the mickey of Teacher's from his back pocket and has a swig. He finds some of the words: dink, balls, cock. When women pee it slops into them and men have to put their cock in to clean them out. One day, any time now, a spot of blood will come onto my underpants from, ah, from 'that place.' He has lost one of the words. He clears his throat, takes another swig. He finds the word. Cunt."

Photo from the promotion
of the Fringe production
of Secrets by
Jacqueline Dumas.
Pauline and Maria Goretti are on good terms at the end of Madeleine and the Angel, having survived the outrageous actions of their parents. Dumas has more trials in store for them, however. Her new play, Secrets, is described: "Following a 45-year separation, Maria Goretti has come to stay with her sister Pauline, ostensibly because of their mother's imminent death. What has kept the sisters apart, and what has compelled them to come together again? Old resentments and sibling rivalries bubble to the surface."

Jacqui and I have been friends for a long time. She is the former owner of two bookstores in Edmonton; first Aspen Books, then Orlando Books. (She was also mentioned in Janice MacDonald's mystery set in Edmonton, Sticks and Stones.) I'm really looking forward to seeing her show tomorrow!

No comments: