One of my favourite things about translated literature is discovering stories which completely change the way I look at some little corner of the world.
Sometimes that happens when I read a book by an author from a language with which I’m not at all familiar. Other times its thanks to a book about a piece of history which didn’t feature in my school textbooks. In Little Beast by Julie Demers (trans. Rhonda Mullins), I found a whole new way of looking at the mind and soul of a little girl who isn’t quite the “girl” she’s supposed to be.
“Julie Demer’s Little Beast (translated by Rhonda Mullins) is a dark fairy tale, more Grimm than Disney, set in the forbidding landscape of wintery rural Quebec. The shape of the story is familiar. A child, an absent parent, a “curse,” fumbling adults to be outwitted, a quest, a return home. Demers never flinches away from her young narrator’s perspective and yet Little Beast slowly emerges as a tale about the end of childhood and the intersection between experience, self-perception, and cultural narrative.
“That was the year Mother couldn’t stand up without help: pregnancy had her by the jugular. The family had turned their backs on her because she and father had gotten caught up in the ultimate sin. Which is to say, they had touched each other’s difference […] A few months before the due date, she lay down on her back and evicted me like a common tapeworm.”
In order to achieve a nuanced and poignant examination of sex, gender and society, Demers focuses with unusual clarity on the particular qualities of a child’s internal narrative. Most strikingly, she captures the way in which a threatened child views the world with a seriousness equal to or greater than that of adults. She reminds us that children are in possession of a complete worldview, built on limited information but no less powerfully held for that fact. And perhaps more importantly, that we adults are the product of our own childhood fairytales, more than we would like to believe.”
Read the full review at Asymptote Journal.