Laurence Leduc-Primeau, In the End They Told Them All to Get Lost, translated by Natalia Hero, is published by QC Fiction of Québec this month – my thanks to them for this ARC.
It’s not their strongest title in what’s been so far an excellent series of prose fiction works translated from the French. Here’s a link to those I’ve posted on here so far.
My favourite to date is Eric Dupont’s Giller Prize shortlisted epic Songs for the Cold of Heart, which does what all fine fiction does: creates its own world and characters out of recognisable features and makes them new. This new title is a typically unconventional choice for the publishers: it’s essentially a long stream of fragments of the thoughts and impressions of the narrator, a young Canadian woman called Chloé who has ended up in a Spanish-speaking South American country, and is trying to make sense of her new, alien surroundings.
‘My God, it’s humid’, she thinks early on. ‘How can you stand it?’ What marks out the narrative from the run of the mill is the originality of the narrative perspective: Chloé is here addressing her only friend – a stain on the wall she’s named Betty.
She complains about the endless noise, the ‘people who use their windows as ashtrays.’ The din gets inside her skull:
No wonder they say this town is the therapy capital of the world.
Everyone’s crazy here. That’s why I came.
Her housemates are a feckless lot. There’s a lot of debauchery and decadence, very little in the way of plot.
What sustains the reader’s interest is that fey, vulnerable voice of the narrator’s. She’s lonely, desperate for human connection, prepared to settle for exploitative sex if necessary. She doesn’t even speak the local language at first, but things improve when she becomes more fluent. She even gets a job as a theatre receptionist.
Still she finds the world around her difficult to interpret. It’s full of significance that almost always eludes her. She struggles to integrate her life and her heart.
As an account of a young woman’s attempt to coalesce with the world she inhabits it’s a daring, raw and engaging narrative. Its fragmentary nature is an apt reflection of her experience and sensibility.
The translator has done a fine job in rendering the rangy, demotic voice of this narrator: the prose never drags its heels. She does well to leave the frequent Spanish expressions in their original: this heightens the sense of Chloé’s exclusion from the language and the lives of others. Her growth is indicated by her starting to meditate on the semantics and structures of that Spanish language.
Thanks again to QC Fiction for making available to the anglophone world these works that deserve wider dissemination – every one in the series that I’ve read so far has been original and fresh.
Available April 15.