My review of Suzanne will follow the publisher’s description.
Eighty-five years of art and history through the eyes of a woman who fled her family – as re-imagined by her granddaughter.
Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette never knew her mother’s mother. Curious to understand why her grandmother, Suzanne, a sometime painter and poet associated with Les Automatistes, a movement of dissident artists that included Paul-Émile Borduas, abandoned her husband and young family, Barbeau-Lavalette hired a private detective to piece together Suzanne’s life.
Suzanne, winner of the Prix des libraires du Québec and a bestseller in French, is a fictionalized account of Suzanne’s life over eighty-five years, from Montreal to New York to Brussels, from lover to lover, through an abortion, alcoholism, Buddhism, and an asylum. It takes readers through the Great Depression, Québec’s Quiet Revolution, women’s liberation, and the American civil rights movement, offering a portrait of a volatile, fascinating woman on the margins of history. And it’s a granddaughter’s search for a past for herself, for understanding and forgiveness.
‘It’s about a nameless despair, an unbearable sadness. But it’s also a reflection on what it means to be a mother, and an artist. Most of all, it’s a magnificent novel.’ – Coach House Books
The book starts off with Anais Barbeau-Lavalette explaining the hate she feels for her grandmother. This blunt declaration startled me and compelled me to dive deep into the pages of Suzanne.
Young Suzanne is a fire cracker, I could feel her heat coming off the pages. She’s daring and as I followed her life, I got the distinct sense that she was in constant struggle against the shackles of society, adulthood and government.
Suzanne is written in the second person. I think this is the first book I’ve read that was written this way. If anything it only enhanced the experience.
At times I felt like Anais was pointing the finger at her grandmother. Essentially saying: I know what YOU have done!!! Other times, I felt like she wanted me (the reader) to be thrust in Suzanne’s shoes.
Suzanne is a novel of life changing moments; when everything seems a possibility. It’s about growing up, letting go, experiencing life, fitting in, and finding your way. I couldn’t help feel, that above all it was a book about that singular moment when YOU elect to choose yourself.
Within the same page I experienced a multitude of emotions, I wanted to laugh and then cry, I wanted to scream yet I held my breath. There is such honesty, it’s almost overwhelming. The pace is fast and pages flew by… before I knew it I was done. I wanted more though.
Overall, it felt like I was reading an art piece. Some pages where not full of text. Perhaps only a quarter of the page was written as if to say… there is more to this story but I’ll leave this space empty – because I can.
And with anything that revolves around History, (I still have so much to learn) I was looking up things in google as I read. Quebec is now my home yet it’s rich with a history that still escapes me. I learnt of Manifeste Refus Global (1948) – Jules Sioux – Riopelle – The Automatist Group and of course of Suzanne Meloche.
In the beginning, I felt the hate boiling through the pages yet as I came to the end… it felt like a loving tribute. It is a book I won’t soon forget, it has made a definite imprint on my soul.
Suzanne by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette
Published by Coach House Books
Translated by Rhonda Mullins
9781552453476, 224 pages
* An e-galley of Suzanne was provided by the publisher in exchange for my review