Annie Perreault,The Woman in Valencia. QC Fiction, Québec, 2021. 212 pp. Translated from the French by Ann Marie Boulanger.
QC Fiction, the Canadian imprint that specialises in translating French fiction into English, continues to be innovative: every title in their catalogue is stimulating to read.
The plot is uncomplicated: Claire Halde is on holiday in Valencia with her husband and two small girls. She’s basking in the summer sun on a hotel fourth-floor pool terrace, watching her family play in the water. A strange woman approaches her, fully dressed, and asks Claire to take her tote bag. There’s a bloodstained recent dressing on her wrist, which is bleeding copiously. Claire is alarmed by the woman’s agitated state, and tries to calm her down. Her offers to call for medical help are dismissed.
Then the woman climbs over the terrace rail and jumps.
For the rest of this taut narrative Claire is haunted by this event. Her life starts to fall apart as her emotional state fragments.
Time passes, and she visits Valencia again. Has a passionate affair. This seems to exorcise her demons.
Intercut with these developments we learn about her daughter, Laure, now an adult, who runs a marathon in Valencia in an attempt to honour her mother and emulate her running feats. We’re given insights to Laure’s thoughts as the kilometres pass. There are also flashbacks to Claire’s youthful backpacking adventures.
For a while I thought this would have been better as a long short story, but as the various strands of narrative assembled themselves I began to appreciate the author’s artistry. Her focus is on the feelings and impulses of her main characters: we get right inside their heads, and the intensity of their emotions is palpable. The central metaphor of the marathon is an apt vehicle for the ordeals of endurance these women undergo.
The translation, as always with QC titles, is excellent: idiomatic and smooth.
My thanks to the publishers for this ARC.