Read for: Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and for Words and Peace’s Books on France 2014 Reading Challenge.
Ashes by Edvard Munch. It pretty much sums up the story…
Disclaimer. Even now, in the final year of my degree, I feel a little nervous about reviewing books read in French. What if I’ve missed some cultural reference that every other French reader’s grasped? What if, even after close reading, I haven’t fully appreciated the linguistic subtleties of the text, such as those present in Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal? Just because I can understand the words doesn’t mean I’ll ‘get’ all the sub-texts.
I fear I shall always be an English woman reading French novels.
Now that’s out of the way, on to the review! 🙂
If they had only cut off her hair, she would have been freed from the bat, but her family forbad it and she was lumbered with her “petit bête”. But the beast is demanding and slowly strips her of her sense of self as she strives to care for it. In an attempt to satisfy it, she runs away from home and sets out on a journey that takes her far from her tiny world to one as nightmarish as Lorca’s New York.
Despite being Fleutiaux’s first novel, her style is already developed and by gum, what a style! Part gothic novel, part psychological thriller, part coming of age tale, part social commentary; NdlCS drew me into the claustrophobic head of its narrator from the opening lines. The book is sub-divided into 3 books, just like the novels of yore and each has a slightly different style, even though each section is equally dark and oppressive. With a hand on my heart, I can swear that the last author I’ve read who’s convincingly managed to maintain such a constantly airless atmosphere throughout their novel was Mervyn Peake in the Gormenghast Trilogy.
Then again, perhaps a comparison to The Yellow Wallpaper would do HdlCS more justice: the narrator’s sanity is repeatedly called into question as she is exploited and potentially abused (I say ‘potentially’ as the first-person narrative coupled with her innocence leads to some ambiguous passages that had me squirming and thinking, ‘Oh G-d, really? Is what I think is happening really going on?’).
It seems silly to have written a review about a book with the word ‘bat’ in the title without (thus far) having mentioning said bat! Fleutiaux mentioned in an interview that she chose to stick a bat in there because she « could never have written a novel about a young girl, a coming-of-age story » without the presence of a ‘character’ that would be versatile enough to be used as short-hand for the duality of human nature. So both the darker tendencies of human nature, such as depression, guilt and self-loathing as well as hope and freedom. Furthermore, the bat’s existence is called into question on several occasions, leading the reader to wonder if it’s real until the end. (Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here!)
That bat really does drive the story forward as it has complete control over the narrator, forcing her to exhaust and ostracise herself to feed and care for it.
Dark, disorientating and darn well-written! If you can read French, I heartily recommend it. English speakers, there doesn’t seem to be an English translation of it 39 years after it was written, so I doubt there ever will be. 😦 Nonetheless, I live in hope!