‘Mad Shadows’ by Marie-Claire Blais – A Fractured Fairy Tale


‘Mad Shadows’ by Marie-Claire Blais (1959) – 123 pages Translated from the French by Merloyd Lawrence

After reading ‘A Season in the Life of Emmanuel’, I wanted to read more, more, more fiction by Marie-Claire Blais, so now I have read ‘Mad Shadows’. ‘Mad Shadows’ was her first novel and was published in Canada when Blais was only 19 years old.

‘Mad Shadows’ is a gruesome cruel family story about a mother and her two children. It has the simple stark intensity of a fairy tale.

After the death of her husband, the mother Louise was left with her two children. She is proud and devoted to the point of obsession with her beautiful younger boy Patrice.

His mother caressed the nape of his neck with the palm of her hand. With a gentle slip of her all-too-supple wrist she could lower Patrice’s head to her bosom and hear his breathing more easily.”

However the mother considers her daughter Isabelle-Marie who is three years older than the boy to be ugly and not worthy of any attention at all.

Louise’s hand clutched the frail shoulder. Her nails pierced the skin. All her contempt for her daughter spurted like pus from her skin.”

The mother sends the daughter out to work in the fields while the mother dallies in the house with the boy. The daughter believes herself to be ugly and is insanely jealous of her brother.

There are two other characters in this cruel fairy tale of a novel. The mother Louise goes off for a short vacation and brings back this guy Lanz who she marries and who temporarily displaces her son for her attentions.

Later daughter Isabelle-Marie meets and marries the blind young man Michael who she thinks loves her as long as he cannot see her.

As in ‘A Season in the Life of Emmanuel’, some readers might find ‘Mad Shadows’ too extreme, too over-the-top, for their tastes. However the art or talent that I admire in the writing of Marie-Claire Blais is that she deals with powerful deep painful emotions and situations in a highly original way.

I am now hopelessly addicted to this writer, Marie-Claire Blais. I have one of her later novels (She is still producing novels), ‘A Twilight Celebration’, on my wish list for Christmas.


Grade:   A


3 responses to this post.

  1. It sounds as grim as A Season in the Life of Emmanuel. I think I’ll pass. She does write well, though.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Emma,
      Alright, I will agree with you that both ‘A Season in the Life of Emmanuel’ and ‘Mad Shadows’ are grim, but so are several of the most loved fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks and the Three Bears or the Three Little Pigs. I find both of these books to be high-energy and outrageous cautionary tales about the ill effects of bad parenting and excessive and wrong religious dogma.



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