Alone with their bullying father on a vast estate, a sister and brother speak a language and inhabit a universe of their own making. When the old man commits suicide, they are forced into contact with the villagers and their cloak of romance and superstition quickly falls away to reveal shocking truths. Balancing naiveté with carnality, Soucy employs his signature playfulness, plot twists, and fascination with guilt, cruelty, and violence in a narrative tour de force where nothing is quite what it seems.
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Gaétan Soucy has been compared to Samuel Beckett and described as "one of the best French-language novelists today and the most indisputable revelation in recent years" (Le Monde). He teaches philosophy and lives in Montreal.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
New Introduction by Rumi Hage for 2016 Edition
Gaétan Soucy’s novel The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is a thoughtful reflection on the savagery of the universe and the particularities of local history. The novel is a deceptively grand yet concise allegory about the Quebec question and offers a rich, deep depiction of a nation, a family, and a tribe through an elaborate series of metaphors. It is also a tragic mythology and a lamentation of man’s fatal place in the world.
On the discovery of the dead body of their authoritative father, the lives of a pair of siblings living an isolated existence on an estate are thrown into disarray. The little girl, who refers to herself in the masculine in the first part of the book, is forced to leave the estate for the first time in order to find a coffin. The boy, a brute and a victim of his father’s violence, stays behind with the corpse. On our own we could scarcely hesitate, exist, fear, suffer” the girl says to herself. These words are the assertion of a submissive religiosity, in a physiological and religious sense, in the face of the power of the father. It’s the tyranny of the father that eclipses normality, and leads the characters into a state of dependence, fear, and suffering.
This patriarchal authority, which is modelled on the authority of the church and its historical grip on Québécois society, imbues the depiction of the father. The father’s life unfolds in the narrative through the girl’s idiosyncratic language a language that is the result of a long seclusion and boundaries enforced by an imaginary demarcation. The father locks himself in a closed chamber and cries over the mummified bodies of his dead wife and his other daughter. The father’s masochism, as witnessed by his children who are forced to participate by flogging him with a wet towel” blurs the boundaries between sexuality and Christianity, pleasure and punishment, remorse and violence.
The novel moves the reader through a conflicted existence that swings between the aspiration for transcendence and the perceived necessity for confinement and isolation. The little contact that the family has had with the other” remains mysterious, distant, and pathological. The others” appear in the forms of a beggar, the sound of distant bells, and the books that the girl reads from her father’s library. The books are referred to as dictionaries, and learning is experienced as a series of rules and definitions not an exchange of ideas or points of view. The books in the library are philosophically hefty, from Spinoza’s Ethics to the Lives of the Saints and books about Japan where the father once served as a soldier. Nevertheless, the girl’s voracious reading does not prepare her for her first and only encounter with the villagers, which ends up being an experience of alienation, mépris, and incomprehension.
In the village, the encounter with a mining inspector was an experience of love and sexual attraction. Suddenly, the elsewhere is revealed as a place of seduction and danger. The villagers were invaders that had to be stopped from taking over the farm.
In the second and last part of the book, the narrator assumes and acknowledges her gender. The narration changes from the masculine to the feminine. The reference to imaginary testicles that was so often mentioned vanishes, and later, she contemplates her growing belly. With this comes the glimpse of liberation the triumph of women from the oppression of patriarchy and theocracy.
It would be a mistake to reduce this book to a simple metaphor of un peuple, The little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is a masterpiece by virtue of its capacity to go beyond a nation’s history. Ultimately, it’s about the fate and the tragedy of being human. As bleak as this book seems, there is an acknowledgement of man’s capacity to find ways to escape an existence of entrapment. With the prospect of a new life, the girl constructs a mental image of a future with children of her own on another estate. This time the world is wider a pantheistic universe not in opposition to the elsewhere, the vast elsewhere, but part of it, or what Spinoza refers to as the Being.”
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Book Description Flamingo, 2002. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0007131453