This week I arrived in Quebec and read a short story by Mavis Gallant. I would like to read some French Quebec short stories also, but the only ones I have at home are in English translation and I’d rather read them in the original language.
“Scarves, Beads, Sandals” is probably not the best choice to represent Quebec as it is set in Paris. Although she was born in Montreal, in 1922, Mavis Gallant has been living in France since the 50s. She is thus one of those expatriate Canadians who have made their name abroad, yet is an important reprentative of Canadian literature.
“Scarves, Beads, Sandals” is a difficult story to read and I believe a few more readings would be necessary to really grasp it. The story focuses on three characters: Mathilde, her first husband, Theo, and her present husband, Alain. The focalisation of the narrative alternates between each of the character very subtly and a short passage is even narrated in the first person.
Under its simplicity of plot, this story presents many complexities in its writing style and brings us to share the thoughts of its protagonists, Mathilde in particular. Although she is now married to Alain, she still looks after her first husband Theo, a bohemian artist whose previous partners Mathilde attempted to imitate unsuccessfully in the past. The unifying element of the narrative is the painting Theo offered to Mathilde and Alain for their wedding. Through discussion of the painting we get a glimpse at Theo’s unconventional artistic life, which stands in stark contrast to the stability Alain seems to have brought in Mathilde’s life. However, it is difficult to figure out how Mathilde feels about these two men and what they represent. The narrative moves from past memories to present moments and we are left to reconstitute what we can from these exerpts of lives.
Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.