Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 7, 2021

The Woman in Valencia (La femme de Valence), by Annie Perreault, translated by Ann Marie Boulanger

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.


The  Woman in Valencia (La femme de Valance) was a finalist for the Canadian Prix Ringuet award and shortlisted, Rendez-vous du premier roman, which suggests to me that, like some elements of Australian publishing, Canadian publishing also has an appetite for dark novels about grief.

The novel begins with the suicide of a woman and explores the aftermath on the witness and her family.

Claire Halde is on holiday in Valencia with her family when it happens.  They’re not really having a great time because it’s too hot and they have chosen a high-rise hotel too far from attractions of interest, but the kids like the rooftop pool and that’s where Claire is when she is approached by a woman dripping with blood from her wrist.  The woman commands Claire to take her handbag, and then she throws herself off the balcony.

Paralysed by shock, Claire doesn’t react when the woman approaches and the novel traces how her failure to act leads to her descent into prolonged guilt and obsession with the event.  From her daughter’s narrative we eventually learn that Claire had a ‘shrink’ but it doesn’t help much.  Her (lightly sketched) husband Jean tires of Claire’s compulsive preoccupation with the dead woman; and the kids are affected too, especially the daughter Laure who (at six years of age) saw the woman jump but didn’t understand what had happened at the time.

This is all rather grim, but the novel picks up when after four years and the end of her marriage, Claire returns to Valencia to exorcise her demons by finding out what she can about the dead woman.  She dyes her hair blonde, assumes a Russian identity, and uses couchsurfing.com to revisit the casual travel arrangements of her youth.

Intersecting with this narrative is Laure’s homage to her mother.  Like Claire, she becomes a runner, and elects to run in a marathon that they were always going to do together.  Kilometre by kilometre, Laure describes the physical experience of long-distance running, while also revealing more about her mother at the time.

Despite this parallel narrative, the focus is primarily on Claire and her long-term emotional paralysis, but the novel does also portray the damage done to children whose parent is unravelling psychologically.  However, I’m unconvinced that either character achieved the catharsis that seemed to be needed, so ultimately, it’s more about a journey than any possible destination for either of them.

The novel is beautifully written, but as the world struggles through the pandemic, I think our reading choices do need to offer a little hope.

Simon at Tredynas Days reviewed it too.

Author: Annie Perreault
Title: The Woman in Valencia (La femme de Valence)
Translated from the French by Ann Marie Boulanger
Publisher: QC Fiction,  an imprint of Baraka Books, Quebec, Canada, 2021
ISBN: 9781771862370, pbk., 212 pages
Review copy courtesy of QC Fiction


Responses

  1. This sounds compelling. I can’t see myself not being deeply affected if I was in a similar situation.

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    • Yes, of course, I think most people would. But for me, whether the author intended it or not, the book raises the question of why some people experience PTSD which never goes away and ruins their lives, and others suffer the shock and grief but are eventually able to process it and not be debilitated by it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s rather fascinating to me, actually. I may get a copy of this.

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        • Readings did have them, but they seemed to be out of stock when I looked.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I have bought it on Kindle. Seemed the quickest and cheapest – which I have to consider more these days.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. My experience of (other people’s) trauma is that it takes a lifetime to deal with it, and that from the partner’s perspective it often looks like the traumatized person is being difficult or unreasonable.

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    • We used to teach a resilience program at school which took the perspective that all of us can expect to experience some kind of trauma in our lives and that there are strategies we can use to help recover from it.
      My role models as a teenager were the Holocaust survivors who were our neighbours.

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  3. Thanks for the link to my post, Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] was just the author that I wanted to read after the emotionally draining experience of reading The Woman in Valencia (La femme de Valence), by Annie Perreault, translated by Ann Marie Boulanger.  I wanted to read a novel featuring […]

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