Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 20, 2018

In Every Wave, by Charles Quimper, translated by Guil Lefebvre

This slim novella— almost a short story, really— is unsettling reading.

Caution: if anything in this review is a catalyst for distress, please remember that help is available at Lifeline and Beyond Blue or counselling services in your location.

This is the blurb:

A man loses his daughter while swimming one summer. This little gem of a novella— sad and beautiful and spellbinding all at once— is the tale of how he strives to be reunited with her again, whether back home on dry land or thousands of miles underwater. Racked with guilt and doubt, he lingers over her memory, refusing to let her go. He imagines and reimagines the moment she slipped away from him as he searches for her behind every rock, in every bush, in every wave.

So this is the story of a man’s grief for the daughter he has lost, and how that grief derails him.  It is narrated by the distraught father, in snatches of memory intersecting with his perceptions of how he is coping now. At first our sympathies are with him— how could they not be? But as the story progresses the reader becomes disorientated by the discrepancies in three different versions of the girl’s disappearance. Ostensibly, he is speaking to his lost child.  But to whom, really, is he telling these stories, if not himself ? To his wife, to offset the blame for failing to watch the child by the water? To his friends, to deflect their judgement that he’s an irresponsible parent?  Is he rehearsing a plausible tale for the police and the coroner?  Or is it that his memories of that day have become distorted by the other times that there was a momentary distraction? Is this a cautionary tale to warn parents about the potential for fatal consequences when momentary distractions prevail? (I look at the behaviour of parents in public places when they are absorbed in their phones and I despair sometimes for the future of their lonely little children).

But there’s more: the man’s descriptions of his own obsessive behaviour illustrate his torment but they also signal a disintegration of the self.  And here I am reminded of the dictum that there is no timeline for grief.  The mantra that everyone grieves in their own way.  That none of us should take it upon ourselves to advise that someone should be over it by now or that it’s time to move on.  And yet… the poignant tragedy of In Every Wave asks: what if self-absorption in grief abandons others who are bereaved, who are in need of love and support?  what if giving in to overwhelming grief leads to obsession with the dead and— as in the tale of Orpheus— to extreme efforts to reunite with the loved one?  These questions trigger anxiety about the signs we should watch for, and what we should or could do if we think intervention is necessary. These are difficult questions, not easily expressed, not easily answered…

The book is beautifully written, in a translation by Guil Lefebvre that is exemplary.  But its conclusion packs an emotional punch that made me put it promptly aside because I wanted to think about something else.

Simon reviewed it too, at Tredynas Days. So did Stu at Winston’s Dad.

Author: Charles Quimper
Title: In Every Wave (Marée Montante)
Translated from the French by Guil Lefebvre
Publisher: QC Fiction, Quebec, 2018, 78 pages
ISBN: 9781771861557
Review copy courtesy of QC Fiction

Available from Fishpond: In Every Wave


Responses

  1. LOOKS GOOD LISA, CHINA

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  2. I have a review of this book coming out toward the end of the month. I don’t want to say too much about my own reading of it until after that.

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    • Yes, I saw your brief comment at Goodreads. I think your perspective on this one is going to be valuable.

      BTW I was disappointed to see another review elsewhere that just about retold the entire story, rendering reading the book superfluous. I hope I haven’t done that, but it’s not easy with such a short story.

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  3. A touching post, Lisa, and thanks for the link.

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  4. Okay. So I like books about swimming and I like grief-lit but I’ll be bypassing this one… I’m doing a lot of complex grief counselling at the moment and really have to switch gears in my time off.

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    • To be honest, I think if I hadn’t been excited to read my first book from Quebec, I might have bypassed it too. It’s beautifully written but I did find it harrowing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Another great Quebec read a powerful book for its short length

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  6. I keep seeing In Every Wave around and I admit I do want to read it, but currently I don’t think I can handle something so emotional.

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  7. Thanks for the thoughtful review, Lisa. I’ll send you something more upbeat next time!

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    • Hello Peter, it’s a measure of how powerful this book is, that it’s starting to haunt me. Like Beside the Sea, by Veronique Olmi…

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  8. I spent twenty years as a father hoping I wouldn’t have to go through this, and thought it was safely over, but now I find I am just as anxious about my grandchildren. Can’t imagine how I would deal with a real tragedy, though I spend lots of time when my brain should be out of gear composing testimonies to the police for imaginary crimes and accidents.

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    • Well, stop that. I worry about the horrible world we are bequeathing to the next generation because of climate change but I am perfecting techniques for Not Thinking About It because as Jeff Sparrow argues so cogently in today’s Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/24/is-socialism-the-answer-to-the-climate-catastrophe) “The IPCC’s given us a terrifying image of what ruination could involve. It’s well past time we started talking about the alternative” and all I have to fight it with is my puny vote.

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      • Hope you enjoyed your walk! I had half a dozen posts by half a dozen bloggers in my backlog. I thought I’d skip read today’s Guardian but I’ll follow up your link in the morning. Been visiting elderly ‘Trump voting’ relos in Qld bible belt – no such thing as climate change, of course. But that last IPCC report was terrifying.

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      • Used mail option to send article to x-ML and socialist/Greens daughter.

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  9. This was such a beautiful book! You’ve brought up some relevant questions.I’m trying to write about this book right now in as concise a way as I can (for Novellas in November).

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    • LOL I have something today for Novellas in November too! I didn’t read as many as I thought I could…
      But yes, thi8s is a difficult book to write about…

      Liked by 1 person


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