Troublesome Aspects to Unsettling Quebec Novel

Winnipeg Free Press, September 26, 2015 | Go to article overview

Troublesome Aspects to Unsettling Quebec Novel


Any strong perfume is polarizing: some will love it, some would rather leave it.

So it is with Perrine Leblanc's latest novel The Lake: it's a highly individual tale that walks the line between lyrical and cloying, spare and underdeveloped, and readers will have to decide whether or not they are drawn to its strong flavour.

Leblanc, who won the Governor General's Literary Award for French fiction for 2011's Kolia, is a native of Montreal. The Lake retains its French inflection -- it was originally published in French under the title Malabourg (Gallimard, 2014), and now appears in a translation by Lazer Lederhendler.

Set on the north shore of the Baie des Chaleurs in the fictional village of Malabourg, The Lake is a story of sexual violence. Malabourg's men, "with their fishermen's faces and ageless palms, are driven to distraction by the girls of the new generation."

One by one, three young women disappear near the lake, their lives cut short by a predatory "beast." The village's old women shiver but look the other way; the village's young women choose to stay indoors -- except Mina, the brown-haired town's black-haired oddball. Often Mina crosses paths with Alexis, the brilliant young local perfumer whose passion for the murdered Genevive lives on in the roses he leaves by the lake.

Leblanc is more interested in rehabilitation than suspense. The identity of the murderer is revealed early in the story, and the rest of the novel lingers on Mina and Alexis as they pick up the pieces.

Scent aids them, and Leblanc is at her best in passages where Alexis searches catalogues of scents for the exact combinations that will evoke memory and identity: "He plays with the proportions, avoids theoretical balance, looks for the absolute equation, the short history that he composes by searching through his memory of fragrances." The results are intended to tell Malabourg's painful story. …

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