The Difficulties and the Delights of ‘A Twilight Celebration’ by Marie-Claire Blais

 

A Twilight Celebration’ by Marie-Claire Blais (2015) – 255 pages       Translated from the French by Nigel Spencer

Again I have read Marie-Claire Blais. She is a highly lauded author originally from Quebec who has written many novels and has earned some of the highest literary awards in French literature. She has even been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Most of her work has been translated into English including  ‘A Twilight Celebration’ which I have recently read. So how come is it that when I go to GoodReads there is not one review of ‘A Twilight Celebration’ there? Very strange. To remedy that sad situation, I posted this review there this morning.

I have read enough of Marie-Claire Blais to know that whatever difficulties her text presents, it will ultimately be worth my while. First I am going to explain the difficulties I encountered in reading ‘A Twilight Celebration’, and then proceed to describe how this novel finally transfixed me.

Marie-Clare Blais makes no concessions to her readers when in the pursuit of her vision. The entire novel is one long paragraph composed of about twenty sentences. It tries to capture the rapid-fire stream of thoughts that pass through several collective individuals’ minds in what Pasha Malla in the New Yorker calls “dizzying cascades of language”. There are several seemingly unrelated plot scenes, and Blais switches from one scene to another scene in mid-sentence without warning the reader. So you might start one sentence reading about Daniel at his writers conference in Scotland and wind up the sentence reading about transsexual Victroire dancing on stage in San Francisco. Along the way you also may have dealt with Angel’s misfortunes or Petites Cendres’s struggles somewhere else.

Actually Marie-Claire has written a ten-novel cycle about these same characters. I started with one of the later numbers in the cycle because with Marie-Claire Blais, as with Virginia Woolf, plot doesn’t much matter.

If your plan is to read only complete sentences at one time, forget about it. The few periods appear inconspicuously, and you will probably miss them. What really stunned me was that after several of her rare end-of-sentences, she would start her next sentence with “And”. Apparently everything in Blais’ world is connected.

I must say that at first I resented the author for not making her work less difficult for me to follow. I don’t like to have my inadequacies as a reader shoved in my face. I would have much preferred that this novel had been written in the relatively straightforward manner of Blais’ brilliant ‘A Season in the Life of Emmanuel’. ‘A Twilight Celebration’ does get easier to comprehend and appreciate as you go along.

However, on to the delights of reading ‘A Twilight Celebration’.

‘A Twilight Celebration’ is intense, driven, and heartfelt. I suppose you might call this stream of revelations a reverie, but Blais gets it right – the actions and events that are occurring in front of us intrude on our reverie. This is not a distant reverie but instead an engaged reverie. Some of the reflections as well as some of the actual events are strikingly vivid.

The subjects of Marie-Claire Blais are those who are oppressed in this world, the social outcasts and those marginalized persons who lead rough lives. She deals with political, religious, and especially sexual oppression. One of her subjects is mothers who are left stranded by men with whom they had loveless relationships and one baby or more. The forces of society make it particularly difficult for these mothers.

Here is a good statement of the theme:

we need to get beyond this world that reeks of the worst kind of prejudice,”

Here is a good example of the writing in the novel, this one from the poet Daniel. Of course it begins in mid-sentence.

we are the cantors of a fury too long contained, even asphyxiated, by a hypocritical society that reduces its poets to positions of inertia and impotence, paying them so little heed they end up dying,”

Here is one last example. This concerns the transsexual Victroire as he prepares to dance on stage.

you’re not the lonely fighter you think you are, soon enough you will be teaching the most rigid sectors of society not only basic tolerance but respect, so I’m telling you, Victroire, don’t be afraid, don’t be intimidated by threats and bald-faced blackmail, oh my Victroire, you’ll make love work for everybody, the young are listening to you,”

What if I find it more rewarding to comprehend 60% of what Marie-Claire Blais writes in ‘A Twilight Celebration’ than comprehending 100% of what some other writers write?

Finally, I cannot grade ‘A Twilight Celebration’. My reactions to it are just too complex. This is the second novel that I have refused to grade. The other was written by Jane Bowles.  I encourage you to give ‘A Twilight Celebration’ a try.

 

Grade:    ?

 

 

5 responses to this post.

  1. Well, it sounds challenging, but if it’s worth the effort that’s all that matters. And I totally get what you say about rather understanding part of her work than all of someone else’s!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi kaggsy,
      Here is a much-lauded writer in French whom hardly anyone reads in English and has written about 20 novels. I really liked her early work, ‘Mad Shadows’ and ‘A Season in the Life of Emmanuel’. I considered it a challenge. I suppose it is similar to reading Marcel Proust or Virginia Woolf, writers who make few concessions to their readers.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  2. This intrigued me so much I dropped in at Goodreads to see how long it was… 288 pages… so did you read it more or less continuously? (Allowing for sleep and meals, that is).

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      No,I don’t read any fiction continuously. I require time to absorb what I have just read. For ‘A Twilight Celebration’ I would get into this trance-like state and knock off 15 pages before I knew it. I doubt if I would have stuck with this novel to get to that point except that I was extremely impressed with ‘A Season in the Life of Emmanuel’. My reaction is complicated. Even though it is a fairly short novel, it is like climbing the Mt. Everest of fiction. 🙂

      Like

      Reply

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