DEAF TO THE CITY by Marie-Claire Blais


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Published in Canada in 1981, this translation of French-Canadian Blais' Le Sourd dans la Ville (1979) is here made available to the rest of North America, and that's cause for celebration. Not so much a novel as a prose poem, Blais' hypnotic narrative draws us into a world where everything seems to be happening in one continuous, overwhelming now--a moment that swells with significance as it moves towards a final act of negation. The shifting interior monologues that make up this unusual book reveal a number of troubled souls and tortured psyches, many of whom pass through the seedy Hotel des Voyageurs--""a haven of compassion for captive or desperate people""--in the rundown section of old Montreal. The voluptuous Gloria, a no-nonsense woman of ""charitable lewdness,"" runs this heartbreak house, and dances topless on the side. When she's not cooking for customers, this lusty mother of five entertains her latest beau--one in a series of local hoods. Her oldest daughter, Berthe, a law student, believes that ""indifference is our only salvation,"" and proves it by repudiating her family. At the same time, Gloria attracts the attention of Judith Langenais, a bleeding-heart philosophy professor, who takes tea at the hotel and dwells on Gloria's victimization. The daughter of wealthy, unsympathetic parents, Judith sees ""the stigmata of the past everywhere""; though an optimist, she's a student of torture and holocaust. Recently, she's also convinced Florence, a lonely woman in her 50s, not to commit suicide, ""the ultimate exaltation of your own nothingness."" But this doomed matron, ""a woman of whom nothing remained but a pile of fears,"" arrives at the hotel ready to give in to ""misfortune's implacable fatality."" And her lack of ""faith in the world"" is challenged by the ""sacred ignorance"" she discovers in Mike, Gloria's dying son, whose debilitating brain tumor never diminishes for him ""the ecstasy of being alive."" To struggle through Blais' dense and demanding prose--all of which is interiorized reality--is to engage the very existential questions she dramatizes so brilliantly.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1987
Publisher: Overlook--dist. by Viking