Born of No Woman by Frank Bouysse
In some senses this is a fairy tale, but a Brothers’ Grimm one in all its violence and ‘adult’ themes. It has the hallmarks of a folk tale, with the unforeseen effects of one desperate decision, a number of daughters, even a “kind of castle”. It is a tale told by a number of different voices, from a priest summoned in a mysterious way, through to the young woman at the centre of the tale, whose words encompass the cruelty of years as well as nearly impossible moments. It is a tale of secrets and lies, of abuse and sorrow, as well as love. The writing is translated from the original French, and manages in its second language to be vivid and occasionally transcend its setting, making the rural background of the story almost mythical. This is a big story, an historical novel of past, undefined times, of a man of faith despite his insight into the horror of humanity. A gothic tale of longing and terror, this is not an easy read because of the format of different points of view, or the content, but I was interested to have the opportunity to read and review it.
In the first section, thoughts of memories and stories are considered.Phrases like “The stories we tell, the ones we tell ourselves. Stories are just houses with paper walls, and the wolf is prowling”. Then there is the story of a small boy, escaping from supervision in a house, moving towards a stable, a glorious uncertainty of what will happen when he encounters a horse which is so much bigger than he is. Horses will appear later in the book, as this is a horse drawn, horse riding time, a time before motors and engines. A young woman will encounter horses, an encounter that will return in memory, an opportunity for a different perspective. A priest, a young man at the beginning of the novel, hears a strange request which he is challenged by fulfilling, a discovery of a momentous nature. The voice of Rose, telling her awful tale with so few bright spots, echoes throughout the bulk of the story, joining up the memories and stories of others, concealing nothing. A young woman who has written out her life, setting out painful, even agonising memories and emotions of teenage years. There are other voices which are recorded by an omnipresent narrator, where names are rare and emotions raw. There are the word pictures of a disappearing world, but one that is all too real for some of the characters.
This is a tough book in many ways, full of realities yet set in a timeless rural setting of faith contrasted with personal agendas. The reader is torn between the predictability of terrible truths and the flashes of beauty in some of the more fleeting descriptions. Guilt, pathos, cruelty play their parts in this novel, but also loyalty, devotion and patience. This is a big read in many ways, carrying the reader along, keeping their attention and engaging interest in a unique way.