“Le vertige des insectes,” a review

by Maude Veilleux
Hamac, 2014

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The consistency of feel across Hamac titles is remarkable. While even the boldest could not go as far as to say it’s like continually reading the same author, there is a real feel to each work, the pervading theme appearing to be a clearness of thought, a sometimes cold, matter-of-fact delivery, all in the name of Realism.

Le vertige des insectes, by Maude Veilleux, has a distinctness about it, though. The first part — Spring — opens not with green shoots and birdsong, but with a funeral, a dreariness the narrator never manages to shake off for the remainder of the novel. Our narrator is relating the life of Mathilde. It is her grandmother’s funeral and that along with her lover leaving for the Yukon leaves her with a series of painful memories, each related to death.

It is billed as an “atmospheric novel,” and that couldn’t be closer to the truth. It is a novel of filled bladders and trips to the bathroom for toilet-seat contemplation; people interrupt each other the way people do; sweat collects on characters’ backs; packages are mailed to full addresses, complete with postal codes.

“Mathilde got off the bus, looked left and right, and crossed the street.”

What do sentences like this contribute to the novel, we ask ourselves as we read. What would we have lost if the chapter had begun with Mathilde off the bus and safely across the street? It’s hard to say — or to justify — but such sentences are not in the least tiresome. They never grate on the reader, but instead go about their business quietly, adding to the overall effect, gently anchoring us in a world very much our own.

It is a subtle, unspectacular novel of checked smiles and repressed emotions (“A smile started to play across her lips. She held it back.”). There are no fireworks, seldom much more than another layer of impression added as the chapters go by, albeit with a generous dose of je ne sais quoi holding it all together. The formula is familiar from Déjà, Depuis les cendres, and other Hamac titles: We spend time with the characters. Not a great deal happens. But we are invested in the book. We care about them and enjoy their company.

Still waters run deep, but barely a ripple goes by. Until the final part, that is: “A violence was rising, a matter of urgency, an anger.” Gradually, almost without noticing, we have arrived at a point where almost anything might happen, all in this world of ours. It is fall, Part III. Mathilde isn’t sure any more if she should say her life is “quiet” or “empty.” Empty like the belly she wishes was full with a baby, with a new life. It is only then that I realized, only in the final few pages, that this is not a novel about a life meticulously recorded and shared by the narrator. It is a novel about death.

Review by Peter McCambridge

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