Mad Shadows, by Marie-Claire Blais

Mad Shadows Cover I will confess to not really understanding why this novel was such a sensation. I imagine that it has something to do with the cultural context; aside from The Tin Flute I don’t really know much about Quebec literature from before 1959. I know that (European) French films of that period were moving away from a particular kind of pastoral romance and were either ignoring the genre entirely or subverting its tropes and ideals, and I wonder if Blais was trying something similar with Mad Shadows. With Louise’s vanity, Patrice’s beauty and utter stupidity, and Isabelle-Marie’s intense cruelty and anger, she’s certainly taken a sledgehammer to the pastoral novel, but then Gabrielle Roy did a complete end run around it almost fifteen years earlier. I won’t say that I thought it was bad, but I also can’t say that I liked it very much. There weren’t any issues with translatorese, but there wasn’t much interesting about the writing itself; it felt vague, like the world was shapeless and the timelines less than concrete. Blais didn’t just construct a world without a moral centre, she constructed one with no centre of any kind at all; nothing coheres.

I wish I had more to say, but ultimately I didn’t find much of interest in Mad Shadows, positive or negative. It just wasn’t for me.


Writer. Editor. Critic.

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