Foxes and masks

Vincent Brault, The Ghost of Suzuko. Translated from the French by Benjamin Hedley. QC Fiction, 2022

Québec-based QC Fiction continues to put out an impressive range of stimulating fiction translated from its creative local Francophone pool of writers. I’m lucky enough to be sent copies of ARCs of most of their new titles, so have developed a bit of a backlog of TBRs.

V Brault Ghost of Suzuko cover The Ghost of Suzuko is Vincent Brault’s third novel, but the first to be translated into English. Benjamin Hedley has done a good job – the prose is never stilted or awkward, as translations can be.

It’s a haunting love story – literally. The protagonist, also called Vincent, is mourning his lover, who died suddenly and tragically. In the first half of the novel we see him struggling to adapt to life alone again. He visits a modish art gallery (Suzuko had exhibited her vivid animal masks there) and hangs out with his bohemian friends.

But Suzuko’s presence is always with him. As he slowly emerges from his grief, we learn in the second half how they met at a book launch in Montreal, he followed her to Tokyo, and their lives mingled.

There’s some strange, magical realist stuff about her taxidermy and those animal masks, which she started to wear as an alternative outer skin, hinting at an alternative identity and way of being. Getting a passport photo while wearing a fox’s face can be tricky.

The sentences are often short and spiky – an apt representation of Vincent’s state of mind, and rendered skilfully by the translator, as I suggested above.

It’s a short novel (just over 200 pages, with quite a lot of white space), but it packs in a great deal of powerful emotion, sensuality and surreal weirdness that keeps the reader intrigued.

The cityscape of Tokyo is evoked well: the sounds and smells of the fish market (which plays a surprisingly important role in the narrative), the bustling streets and trendy galleries and bars – but also a cemetery inhabited by tailless cats that are fed by a dishevelled old woman who explains that they come there when their nine lives have been used up, and hence all of their replacement tails, too.

I rather liked these bizarre details that hint at a lot, but I’m not entirely sure what they might signify. Something about life and death. The fox head reminds me of that beautiful, disturbing scene in Kurosawa’s last film, Dreams, in which a lad spies in a forest on a procession of fox-humans, dancing and pausing to peer suspiciously round them as they feel his presence, watching them.