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The mother who could not be a Mom

September 27, 2010 13 comments

La Virevolte, by Nancy Huston. Translated as Slow Emergencies: a novel.

Lin Lhomond is a famous dancer and choreographer. The novel opens with a crude and harsh sentence: “This body came out of her”. Lin is giving birth to Angela, her first born. Lin is married to Derek, a teacher at the local university, somewhere on the East Coast of the USA. The first part of the book describes her life as a mother-dancer. The mother was born with Angela and motherly duties absorb Lin and smother the dancer. A second child arrives, Marina. The motherly duties increase. The dancer, the creator in Lin claims some space. The need to create, to express through the dance, the absolute need to feel her body move are stronger and stronger.

Second part of the novel: Lin makes the choice. The one choice that will irrevocably damage lives. She flees away from her family, accepting an assignment in Mexico. She cuts off the bridges. She shuts the mother in her. The second part relates the parallel lives of Lin and of Derek and the girls, how it is to have done the unforgivable, how it is to grow up with a mother who left you behind and preferred the dance to you.

 La Virevolte was published in 1994. I had already read it, and have thought about it regularly since. It’s quite rare that a book stays in mind that way. This one had disturbed me, probably because the idea of a mother abandoning her children for dancing is disturbing. But for Lin, dancing is more than a job, it is a way to feel alive. To quit dancing is to die. She’s an artist. Rainer Maria Rilke said one is a real writer if not writing is synonym to death. Lin is that kind of artist, dance is her art.

 “Yes this is why I was born

And nothing – no nothing

can equal this pleasure to make bodies

move into space

fill the air with movements

embrace the music with chanting silence

leaps and leaps

mute howls of the joys and sorrows of the universe.”

 Lin has done what society cannot understand: being a mother and turning her back on her children. Yet Nancy Huston never judges her or tries to find psychological explanations. She clinically describes the wreckage Lin left behind and how she fully accepts the consequences of her choice. As in the passage I poorly translated before, the flow of sentences is sometimes broken. Her voice is scattered, like a breathing disturbed by dancing or by smothering.

 When Angela was born, the narrator says of Lin:

“She isn’t dead and she has not become someone else. Not only is she always herself but she is a mother. Not only is she always alive but someone else is also totally alive, over there, at the end of the corridor and she feels the life of this little human pull on the fibres of her heart.”

 She loves her daughters but she shouldn’t have been a mother and with horror realizes it deep inside.

 “What did I do?” Lin thinks

Oh my God what did I do

The dance, already so fragile so dependant, which dies at the very moment it was born, the dance already a mortal child of my mortal body and now these two girls too, these moving and breathing little girls, what did I do”

 I had no children when I read it for the first time and it’s been interesting to read it again now that I am a mother too. Parenthood is not something you can imagine; you can read about it, think about it and all the mental construction you will have elaborated will crumble into sand when reality comes. No one can understand this kind of love and relationship without living it. And no one can picture the “no-man’s-life” of parents of under five-years-old children. Lin was glued in that time. I cannot judge Lin though I probably should. Dancing and creating were stronger than anything else. How could she have known that before? Parenthood is a life experience that is definitive. You cannot try to be a parent, like you try yoga and then quit, thinking “this is not for me”. It is a unique experience in life because it is definitive. The only other irrevocable experience I found is death.

 Nancy Huston is an Anglophone Canadian, lives in Paris, writes in French and then translates her work in English. Though she writes in French, her characters and settings are American. I beg her pardon for the poor translation I made of her voice, but I couldn’t find quotes and I wanted to show how she sometimes turns the language as Lin bends her body. I’m always impressed by authors able to beautifully write in another language than their mother tongue. Maybe it is a way to tell things they would dare writing in their native language. Maybe their inner voice, their author voice sounds just speaks another language. That’s a question I’d like to ask her. And I’d like to see how a writer translates their own work.

 I liked this book a lot. I was taken in the twirl of Nancy Huston’s sentences and the story is not one you can forget.

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