In Wildlives, Quebecois author Monique Proulx creates a magical world out of the stuff of our world. Memory, silence, flowers, summertime, the lake–everything is alive.
“The lake rose and fell and murmured beneath his paddle like a primitive animal mass, then fell silently back into its mineral existence.”
What is happening in the novel is so magical and alive and so delicately parallels the story the character Claire is writing that the reader is unsure whether Claire is writing about what is happening around her or whether Claire’s writing is causing what is happening around her to happen.
“Who knew if diving into the void [writing] shattered the already porous walls between what appears to exist and what does not yet exist?”
Proulx wields repetition like a wand—within sentences, within paragraphs, within the content and the structure of the novel. Take a look at the opening sentences:
“Lila Szach liked uphill paths. In life so many things—and life itself, in fact—go only downhill.”
Wildlives is so beautifully structured that it gave me goose bumps. It begins with a section entitled “Lila,” in which the young Lila is able to imagine herself an old woman. The last section is entitled “Jeremie,” and in it the old Jeremie thinks he sees the figure of a child. In each of these sections, the sun surprises the character so that the world appears to be on fire.
In between these sections, the story takes place: Lila is 76 and Jeremie is a boy. Age and youth, the past and the future. And who’s to say it doesn’t all come together at a certain moment in time.
Wildlives was originally written in French and is beautifully translated by David Homel and Fred A. Reed:
“You think you’ll grow old gracefully, so slowly that you’ll hardly notice it; instead, it leaps on you and reduces you to rubble.”
“…but she could not move, weighed down with nostalgia, suddenly stabbed by the brevity of the whole adventure. How cruel it is; we barely have time to master three steps of the immense cosmic choreography before we’re yanked from the ballet.”
“Night had officially ended, but it still hung in the trees.”
Wildlives was a finalist for the 2008 Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
I definitely want to read this one. I especially love “You think you’ll grow old gracefully, so slowly that you’ll hardly notice it; instead, it leaps on you and reduces you to rubble.” Ha! But then again, night “still hung in the trees” is one of those lines this writer wishes she had written. Nice.
Can’t wait to read this one. It sounds lovely.
Darrelyn and Kim–Wildlives is lovely, and there are so many wonderful lines.
It’s also one of those novels that I started out by thinking it’s all about this place; then no, it’s all about these amazingly individual characters; then no, it’s all about the language; then no, it’s all about the structure–but finally no. It’s all well done.
«À l’ombre des fraisiers, par exemple, il y a des tonnes d’événements, de drames, de merveilles. J’avais envie de participer à cet enchantement.»
Proulx is like a fairy with the words. She brings us in a travel around the strawberry fields and the little house around the corner of our childhood.
Thanks you for this excellent post about this french Writer.
Happy thanks giving!
That’s lovely, Mireille. Proulx is like a fairy with words.
Thank you for the little taste of Proulx in her original French. Is that from Wildlives or from one of her other books? Have you read any of her others?
So glad you like it, Cynthia!
It is a magical read.
Jennifer, thank you so much for recommending this book and taking the time to copy those first sentences into a comment here. After I read them, I couldn’t wait to read the book. And I agree; it is a magical read.
Was just thumbing through The Hours by Michael Cunningham and came across this bit of underlining that reminded me of something, and I’m so excited to actually find what it reminded me of–Wildlives.
Here it is: “We’re middle-aged and we’re young lovers standing beside a pond. We’re everything all at once.” (from a Mrs. Dalloway section)