Vengeance is Mine by Marie NDiaye
There are novels that we read for pleasure, almost without even realizing we are reading them–stories in which we find a vague echo of our everyday lives, our past, and the times around us. Books that gently shake us but while always giving us a flattering reflection of ourselves. Reading a novel by Marie NDiaye is an entirely other experience; and her last work, Vengeance is Mine is a clear reminder of this.
Maitre Susane, a lawyer in Bordeaux, single, is the pride of her parents who are retired municipal employees. To the point where she does not dare to confess that her professional success is far from being as exceptional as they imagine it to be; and that she always carefully parks her car far from their neighborhood when she visits them so that her old car does not show her modest financial situation. The course of her life –riddled with bitterness, guilt, and rancor— is interrupted when Gilles Principaux arrives at her office to ask her to represent his wife–who has just been charged with murdering their three children.
Maitre Susane’s life is shaken and she falls prey to all sorts of questions that become more and more urgent and harrowing as the narrative progresses: who is this Gilles Principaux? Is he the boy with whom she experienced something as an adolescent that was as significant as it was mysterious and which she can barely reconstruct in her mind? Why has he chosen her, a lawyer with a mediocre reputation, for such a momentous trial?
Per her own disclosure, Marie NDiaye is not interested in exposing ideas, or exploring given themes. What draws her to a story is its potential for ambiguity. And Maitre Susane’s story is a case in point: hers is strained with doubts –what happened with Principaux? Was his name really Principaux?. These doubts are wearing out her relationships with her parents. Could she be the mother of (former boyfriend) Rudi’s daughter? Is her immigrant housekeeper Sharon intentionally resisting her attempts to help with her undocumented status? Why is Sharon turning down all her efforts to befriend her?
As one reads Vengeance is Mine, one feels like exploring many situations familiar to NDiaye’s previous novels but anew: failing memory and a potential trauma, repercussions of class conflict, solitude and estrangement from one’s own family, frustration and violence at play within domestic life. As in all of NDiaye’s fiction, strangeness permeates every single space of the narrative, but Vengeance is Mine presents a strong particularity: for once, magic is completely absent from the novel, as if NDiaye has grown out of her previous tricks. The unraveling of her characters is happening first and foremost in their language: their collapse is embedded in an avalanche of conjunctions (but/because) deprived of principal proposition, a multitude of ellipses. It is at the heart of her rapturous prose that Marie NDiaye inscribes their indisputable humanity.
Vengeance is Mine, a novel by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump, Knopf.
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