August 2009

Arts & Letters

‘Tom Is Dead’ by Marie Darrieussecq

By Jacqueline Dutton

Marie Darrieussecq is one of the rare French novelists who has had most of their work translated into English. Her debut novel, Pig Tales, became an international success and another nine novels have followed in the decade since then. Her latest, Tom Is Dead, explores a mother’s mourning ten years after the death of her son. Given the novel’s unexpected setting in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, Australian Lia Hills is an aptly chosen translator and she has produced a text as powerful as the original.

Darrieussecq uses Australia as a bleak backdrop to her central maternal monologue, displaying a studied awareness of the geographical context she evokes. In this place at the other end of the world, the order of life is turned upside down: a four-year-old child dies just after his parents arrive in Sydney from Vancouver to begin a new life. Narrative order is also scrambled and emerges as a chaotic succession of sentiments: the decision to cremate rather than bury, the pleasure of a day at the beach, the trip to scatter Tom’s ashes in Tasmania, and endless comparisons between life with and without Tom.

After being nominated for prestigious prizes in France in 2007, Tom Is Dead was slated for psychological plagiarism by novelist Camille Laurens, whose autobiographical 1995 work Philippe related the death of her own son. But Darrieussecq’s novel is not autobiographical and she challenges the taboo of writing about trauma without having experienced it. Tom Is Dead explores a mother’s forbidden thoughts. She wonders whether she’d give up her two living children to see her dead child again. She questions her husband’s role in their son’s death. And she rails against the forgetting that is inevitable with the passage of time.

The prose is unsentimental despite the weight of emotion that it conveys. Short, simple phrases deliver the compelling tale in inventive ways, from measurements of grief on Internet “stress scales” to discussions of French literature in a Blue Mountains support group.

We know that Tom is dead before we even open the novel, but only in the last eight lines do we learn how he died. In stating that “Tom’s death made Australians of us,” Darrieussecq links the Frenchwoman’s discovery of Australia with the experience of the child’s death. The novel can perhaps be read as a metaphor for France’s thwarted attempts at establishing territories in the Antipodes, the quest for utopia ending in disappointment and death.

Cover: August 2009

August 2009

From the front page

Image of the Lower Darling near Wilcannia

New developments in watergate scandal

The EAA deal is not the only buyback that warrants scrutiny

Image of Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison

The vision thing

So far, the federal election campaign of 2019 is a surprise return to the politics of yesteryear

Illustration

The F45 gym revolution

The Australian fitness franchise is high-fiving its way around the world

Image of Dame Edna Everage

Much ado about Barry

On Humphries’s brand of confronting comedy and the renaming of the Barry Award


In This Issue

Looking west

Australia and the Indian Ocean
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Cafe clairvoyants

‘Zeitoun’ by Dave Eggers

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Croakers


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Valeria Luiselli

Missing witnesses: Valeria Luiselli’s ‘Lost Children Archive’

The Mexican ‘documentary fiction’ writer delivers a polyphonic road trip

Image of David Malouf

David Malouf’s new worlds

Consciousness is at the heart of the celebrated author’s body of work

Image of Solange

A black woman in space: Solange’s ‘When I Get Home’

Songs distilled from the quiet expanses of high art and black culture

Haruki to Highsmith: Lee Chang-dong’s ‘Burning’

Mr Ripley echoes through a masterful tale of class tensions in Seoul


More in Noted

Image of ‘Islands’ by Peggy Frew

‘Islands’ by Peggy Frew

The bestselling author delivers a nuanced examination of family tragedy

‘Who Killed My Father’ by Édouard Louis (trans. Lorin Stein)

Political rage fuels the French author’s account of a fraught father–son relationship

‘Exploded View’ by Carrie Tiffany

This new novel is most striking in how it diverges from its predecessors

‘Zebra and Other Stories’ by Debra Adelaide

Difficult-to-grasp characters populate this new collection


Read on

Image of Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison

The vision thing

So far, the federal election campaign of 2019 is a surprise return to the politics of yesteryear

Image of Dame Edna Everage

Much ado about Barry

On Humphries’s brand of confronting comedy and the renaming of the Barry Award

Image from ‘Eat the Problem’

Can ‘Eat the Problem’ solve the problem?

Mona’s new project explores our fraught ethics of consumption

Image from ‘Janet Laurence: After Nature’

‘Janet Laurence: After Nature’ at the MCA

This survey offers a root and branch study of the natural world’s fragility


×
×