Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Pull of the Ocean

I just finished reading Jean-Claude Mourlevat’s The Pull of the Ocean, and I am struggling with what to write about it.

Yann, the main character, is described in the book as a ten-year-old “dwarf” or “midget.” He has six older brothers—three sets of twins—and does not speak, yet he is the ringleader of the group. On Yann’s say, the seven boys run away from home, but it isn’t until the very end that we actually hear from Yann and his reasons for leaving are revealed.

The young adult book—a translation from the original French—is fascinating. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective: a social worker, a truck driver, one of Yann’s many brothers—and each chapter has a different tone to it. In many ways, it reminded me of reading Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Each character has a distinct voice. For example, Yann comes from an undereducated farming family. As such, his parents do not speak fluently (or should I say, grammatically correct?) and this is reflected in their speech. More than anything, I wish I read French and could compare the English version with the original. What does redneck (forgive me for using the term, but I can’t think of a better one) French read like? I don’t know whether to credit Mourlevat for creating these distinct voices or his translator, Maudet.

Despite enjoying the book—it truly is interesting and well written—I now have a vague sense of blah as I write about it. Perhaps I have ennui (it is a French book, afterall). Perhaps I am still suffering from my self-diagnosed case of heat exhaustion. Or perhaps I really missed something in the book.

The characters refer several times to Charles Perrault’s Tom Thumb. I am vaguely familiar with the story, but I wonder if reading it would add another dimension to my understanding and appreciation of Mourlevat’s book. I’ve decided. I will read Tom Thumb and report back tomorrow.

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