- France Theoret (Author) and Luise Von Flotow (Translator)
Girls Closed In. Guernica Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- F. G. Paci (Author)
Hard Edge. Guernica Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Marie Carrière
F.G. Paci’s Hard Edge is a novel about artistic aspirations and relations during the 1970s in New York, Toronto, and Paris, with the main focus on the tenuous relationship of teacher/writer, Mark Trecroci (“Croach”), and his girlfriend Lisa, a talented young painter. Interestingly, the publisher, on the back cover of Hard Edge, characterizes Paci’s second novel, Black Madonna, as “a powerful feminist novel. Perhaps the present work of fiction needs such a disclaimer to launch its objectifying renditions of women and their needs, albeit subjected to the gaze of the main protagonist and narrator, whose often self-deprecating internal dialogues with his “daemon,” nineteenth-century moralist philosopher Kierkegaard, yield to the portrayal of the lost, confused though introspective artist as a young man. Are readers meant to find Croach’s manipulative mission to sleep with and then disregard the attractive women he meets a rather pathetic phase of prolonged and vengeful adolescence? Are they being called upon to remind themselves that, Kierkegaard or no Kierkegaard, boys will be boys? The unfortunate fact remains that women’s bodies “purr” under our protagonist’s touch, one conquest “glow[s]” whenever complimented by him, another is favoured for showing “miles of leg,” and forget the allusion to Adam and the “ripe delicious apple,” about to “.” The reductive, at times misogynist, terms of our hero’s relations with women are not the only problem with Paci’s novel. Despite the 1970s setting, the veritable point of this backward view of women and men is the most mystifying aspect of the entire endeavor. Moreover, the prose, overwhelmed by too many clichés and contrived descriptions, takes over what might otherwise have resulted in an interesting, perhaps even ironic, novel about human failure and self-delusion. In the end, Hard Edge is hard to take.
France Théoret’s Girls Closed In, translated by Luise von Flotow from the original French, Huis clos entre jeunes filles, also deals, like Paci’s novel, with the issue of introspection, this time with the “deadly” inward-looking of a young boarder in a Quebec Catholic school for future school-mistresses. A familiar subject in Théoret’s writing, which has been self-avowedly feminist for the past 30 years, the internalized, destructive “other” that regulates a young woman’s development as an individual is the focus of this novel. Through her fiction, Théoret presents a scathing critique of the mediocre and monotonous religious education made available to young women in 1950s Quebec as well as of their limited choices outside the domestic sphere, constraints imposed by the conservative clerical society of the period. Despite moments of awkwardness—perhaps caused by the difficulty of rendering Théoret’s dense and intimate French prose into English—von Flotow’s translation is commendable, as it exposes the work of this important Québécois fiction writer, poet and theorist to an Anglophone readership. Readers will appreciate the claustrophobic, indeed huis clos atmosphere of this first-person account of the struggle both for individual sufficiency and for personal connections with others. For the shy narrator, who has deeply internalized such elements of her religious upbringing as constant self-deprecation and self-censorship, female friendship proves to be a complex, painful struggle between the need for closeness and detachment, between mutual understanding and solitude. Another familiar preoccupation in Théoret’s work is that of writing itself, especially as a very self-conscious, personal and difficult act, which reveals both the cultural oppression that her female speakers suffer from as well as their attempts at transgressing the imposed social order. The narrator of Girls Closed In keeps a journal that she insists be written “without deletions,” an objective which underlines the very paradox of the writing act throughout Théoret’s work: writing as always subject to some form of censorship and constraint, but also, as a liberating and autonomous form of self-realization. In the end, Théoret’s heroine stands independent and mostly solitary, but the price paid for this autonomy seems to be an inescapable solitude as well the failure to truly understand another person.
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MLA: Carrière, Marie. Looking Inward. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #193 (Summer 2007), Canada Reads. (pg. 119 - 120)
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