Saturday, April 23, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Mauve Desert by Nicole Brossard

Mauve Desert by Nicole Brossard, translated by Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood
ISBN: 978-1-55245-172-4


Shimmering mirages, swimming pools and mysterious motel men loom as fifteen-year-old Mélanie careens across the Arizona desert in a white car, chasing fear and desire and the mysterious Angela Parkins, and escaping her mother and the roadside Mauve Motel.

This audacious story, in the form of the novel Mauve Desert, finds its way to an enigmatic translator, Maude Laures.  Transfixed, Maude embarks on an extraordinary quest for its elusive author and characters, eventually arriving at Mauve, the Horizon her own enticingly oblique translation of Mélanie’s story.


My Thoughts:

I have a confession.  I’m really not sure about writing this review.  I don’t know that I can do it justice.  I fear none of you, dearest readers, will find it particularly interesting, as it's a strange, experimental, stream-of-consciousness sort of book, but it's very dear to me.  But, I feel that I need to try to tell you about it, since I believe it’s a special novel.

The back cover blurb doesn't really do the story justice (in my opinion) so I'll try to give you an idea of what it's about, although I might be over-simplifying it some.  There are several stories here: Mélanie, fifteen and wild, trying to find her place in the world; a nuclear test detonation done in the desert and the physicist Longman (the only male character in the book); the story of Lorna and Mélanie’s mother; the mystery of Angela Parkins and her death; and of course, the story of translator and her relationship with the book.  You can pry them apart; as I have just done to give you this list, but they don’t really stand alone.  They interweave.  If we have learned one thing from this blogging journey, it’s that I love interweaving stories (especially when presented through poetic language).
I first read Mauve Desert in a class on feminist writers (big surprise) and I had never heard of Nicole Brossard before that small, intimate seminar.  I can tell you I loved it from the opening line: “The desert is indescribable.  Reality rushes into it, rapid light.  The gaze melts.”  The poetic language, the experimental style and Mélanie's character appeal to me as much now as they did when I first read the book.  On the whole, however, I found myself appreciating the intricacies of the book more now that I'm older (and supposedly wiser, the jury's still out on that though).  Four years ago, I rushed along with Mélanie, transfixed by her longing for the desert, her tumultuous emotions, her sentence fragment existence.  While all of these features still held my interest, I also found myself thinking about the translator.  I ruminated on the task of moving a text from one language to another, the lost nuances, transitions, decisions, and of the possibility of the translator as writer.  There is so much to consider here, so much to unravel and examine.  Which is to say, if you don’t enjoy books that give no clear answer, that have layers upon layers and what seems like an infinite possibility of meaning, you should not go anywhere near this novel.  It’s a prose-poem, frantic and painfully beautiful.  It’s an infection in the mind.  Yeah, I’m affected by it, but it's stream-of-consciousness prose poetry and not to everyone's taste.

The only aspect I didn’t like is the repetition of the text of the novel within a novel.  I know that it serves a purpose and the second one, Mauve, the Horizon is not an exact duplicate, but the translator’s interpretation of the original text, but it felt too repetitive for me.  That, and I really liked the somewhat less polished, more fragment style of the first iteration.  The first somehow felt more “authentic,” more like the stream-of-consciousness ravings of a fifteen year old.  And that is something that the novel as a whole captures really well: the mad-dash energy of being a teenager trying to figure out the world and relationships and people.

One last thought before I wrap this up - in thinking about the translator, I also had to think about the fact that the novel was originally written in French.  This adds an extra layer (for me) to what the book is trying to accomplish - suddenly there is the actual writer, an actual translator and they are working with a book that has a writer and a translator.  It's dizzying to think about it in a way.  And all of these writers and translators, all the hands that dealt with these manuscripts, the names on the covers, they are all women.  The lone male character is not even given a proper name.  He is only Longman and he sees only the explosion.  Ah, delicious feminist fare.

If you want to read something a bit different, I highly recommend this novel.  It’s actually fairly short at just over 200 pages and there is a section of pictures in the middle.  The chapters are sometimes only a paragraph long.  You’ll find that even with its fragmented stream-of-consciousness style you make your way through it at a quick pace, pulled along in the wake of Mélanie’s frenzy and Maude Laures’ obsession with the manuscript.  It’s a worthwhile undertaking, beautiful and profound.

Postscript:  Things around here have been a bit...well, heavy I guess.  I promise that next week I’ll review a fluffy, easy to read fantasy novel (or something approximating that description), rather than Canadian feminist literature or challenging mythpunk novels.

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