3 January 2015

Marie NDiaye: La Sorcíère (1996)

I readMarie NDiaye's Rosie Carpe (initially to some bewilderment) several years ago, and coming across her earlier novel La Sorcière I felt I had to have another go. From the beginning the reader is plunged into strangeness, with the narrator Lucie (a witch with imperfect powers) initiating her twelve-year-old twins Maud and Lise into the mysteries: there's an obvious link between initiation and puberty here, as underlined by the girls shedding tears of blood.

Its takes a very short time before Maud and Lise prove to be better witches than their mother, and are ready to fly the nest: they turn into crows while on a train journey with Lucie, then back into their human selves when the train goes through a tunnel; they are also clearly responsible for the termination of their aunt Lili's pregnancy; and, as crows again, they just fly off and leave Lucie when she's on her way home with them.

Lucie's powers are essentially limited to such matters as locating people in the future or the present which is how, for example, she comes to track down her missing husband Pierrot in his new ménage. Lucie's mother, on the other hand, has strong powers and turns her ex-husband into a snail when Lucie tries to bring them together again.

What the reader is witnessing here is not horror or plain fantasy as such, but a kind of magic realism: supernatural events co-exist in world that is only too real – the twins were culturally weaned on TV and buy pizzas from neighbour Isabelle when Pierrot invites someone in from work; Pierrot himself, as his name suggests, is a clownish person who has a job as a timeshare seller; money is hard to come by; and Lucie, struck by the names of the shops in Bourges, wonders (in an all-too-modern setting) if she isn't in her own town, where pretty much all the shops and street layouts look the same.

But other things happen that you wouldn't expect to find in a realistic novel: people can simply appear as if from nowhere and no one is surprised about this, like Lucie's mother and her new partner Robert making themselves at home in the kitchen of Lucie's mother-in-law almost a total stranger to them – in the early hours of the morning and carrying on a conversation and the mother-in-law not batting an eye when she emerges from sleep in dressing gown and slippers. This is a world in which things happen as if in dreams.

There certainly seems to be some social criticism here, and not mainly because Lucie is arrested for the age-old charge of being a witch. Abandonment, separation, isolation, games that families play on each other are central to this novel as in Rosie Carpe. Marie NDiaye – uniquely, the winner of both the Femina and the Goncourt – is clearly a very important writer, and I shall continue to delve into her fascinating books.

Links to my other Marie NDiaye posts:
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Marie NDiaye: Rosie Carpe
Marie NDiaye: Autoportrait en vert
Marie NDiaye: Mon cœur à l'étroit
Marie NDiaye: Trois femmes puissantes
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine

Marie NDiaye: La Femme changée en bûche
Marie NDiaye: Papa doit manger
Marie NDiaye: En famille
Marie NDiaye: Un temps de saison
Marie NDiaye: Les Serpents
Marie NDiaye: Les Grandes Personnes

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