Sunday, 22 September 2019

Et in arcadia... "The Country Will Bring Us No Peace" by Matthieu Simard

The Country Will Bring Us No Peace 

by Matthieu Simard (translated by Pablo Strauss)

A review



I would have missed this wonderful Canadian novella, were it not for a glowing review over at The Opinionated Reader blog which described the book as:

everything today’s Literature has to be and is often lost in commercial choices where quality is compromised. It is a revelation, a dark jewel. A haunting presence.

No mean words of praise!  Yet, having now read The Country Will Bring Us No Peace I can confirm that they are by no means misplaced.

The novella was originally published in French in 2017 as Ici, ailleurs and has just been issued by Coach House Books in an English translation by Pablo Strauss.  It is narrated from two alternating points of view – that of Simon and Marie, a couple who have moved to a house in the country, in a bid to settle down to a quieter life. The protagonists are desperately trying to have a child and their obsession about this seems to be pushing them apart.  It is clear that there was – and quite possibly still is – a great love between them, but by now, little lies and secrets have become a daily characteristic of their relationship.   Despite their optimistic plans, something is not quite right about the village where they have chosen to live. At first, the villagers seem quite friendly – even too friendly perhaps. Yet, they also make it immediately clear that the couple are not wanted here and will always be considered as outsiders.  Just like Simon and Marie’s neighbours, the Lavoies, who with their picture-perfect family and showy materialistic lifestyle, could not be more different from our couple – or from the community which has (not) welcomed them.

The villagers also make vague allusions to tragic occurrences in the community’s past and, particularly, to some dark story which seems to be linked to previous occupier of the house where Simon and Marie live.  They are even warned to leave “for their own good”.

Simard builds an atmosphere of dread around the village.  It often feels bleak and silent, as if even the birds have lost their song. This lack of sound is a recurring theme – on the title page, the work is described or subtitled as “a novel without music”; the cello which Marie used to play and which she carried with her to the village sits silent in its case; a mysterious young woman roams the streets, allegedly deaf and dumb after a mysterious accident; no children can be heard playing in the park or the surrounding forest; the birds no longer sing. Ominously overlooking the village stands a much-hated antenna, which is seemingly the cause of the all the community’s woes or, perhaps, just a sentinel or witness to the daily tragedies of life.  After all, as Marie points out:

Every town has its stories. Dark secrets, accidents, disappearances…Every little town has the same stories, and they’re always a lot like our own.

In The Country Will Bring Us No Peace, Matthieu Simard has given us a strange yet poignant novella.  It is a portrayal of grief and its aftermath, whether in a family or, more widely, in a community.  Yet, the strong elements of realism are also combined with the more fantastical flavours of genre fiction:  the mysteries and secrets surrounding the small town would not be out of place in a thriller or crime novel, while the uncanny elements (what exactly is the antenna all about? And what is really happening in the forest?)  skirt the boundaries of speculative and weird fiction. There's even a dose of humour in the dialogue.

In just over a hundred pages, Simard distils material which lesser authors would have padded out into a tome.  The novella delivers gut-and-heart-wrenching twists in a language which, throughout, retains a distinctive, elegiac lyricism expertly conveyed in this English translation by Pablo Strauss.  This is a special book.   


Paperback128 pages

Published September 17th 2019 by Coach House Books (first published September 19th 2017)
Original Title
Ici, ailleurs


Cover of French-language edition

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for the mention!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have your review to thank for pointing me towards this gem of a book. Only fair to give credit where it's due! 👍

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