by Marion Brunet.
was first published in 2020.
Translated from the French by
Bitter Lemon Press
US release date 4/19/2022
According to my experience with Marion Brunet’s previous novel, Summer of Reckoning, I was not expecting a rosy novel.
Here again in Vanda, we find the portrait of life and misery in France, but this time in Marseille, and focused on a mother and her son, struggling to survive among many difficulties.
Vanda’s life is not easy. It started as a young girl, far from the perfect family situation to grow up in. She ended up pretty much imitating her mother’s life, with a collection of partners and an escape into the bottle when life is too tough.
But she has a treasure, whom she loves with all her being and who helps her hang in there despite everything: her young son, Noé, 6 as the book opens. With him, she lives in a very small hut on an isolated beach. Like a cocoon, sometimes more suffocating than life giving.
Between him and her hard work as a cleaner in a psychiatric hospital, she makes do.
Until Noé’s father suddenly comes back and wants to get closer to the son he didn’t even know he had.
In about 200 pages, Brunet’s writing punches you in the guts.
Nothing is all black and white, and you feel stuck in the situation with Vanda. Of course, you can’t approve of all her moves (including in the way she educates her son), but at the same time you suffer with her as she faces injustice, and you side with her as you see her intense maternal love.
Things are rough also at her work place, and the book gives a very good description of current social problems and unrest in France – the medical crisis (extreme stress, lack of staff and support for the employees), temporary jobs, strikes, demonstrations, police violence (see the powerful pages 127-130 on that!), etc.
Vanda’s growing fear, hatred and anger against the system is representative of so many people’s experience.
With her, you know things are not going to end well, but you don’t know how, and it makes the looming danger even more threatening.
Through all these elements, the author does a fantastic job at creating a very moving portrait of solitude, loneliness, grief, and precariousness. And of the ultimate victims of it all.
Congratulations again to translator Katherine Gregor who really knows how to convey the roughness of Brunet’s style.
VERDICT: Another powerful and very touching portrait of precariousness by Marion Brunet. She won’t let you be indifferent, and might even change your view of contemporary France.
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Any other great novel on victims of the system?
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this book free of charge for review. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.