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Marie-Claire Blais: L’Insoumise (The Fugitive)

This short novel tells the story of the last year so of Paul Robinson from the perspective of three people – his mother, Madeleine, his father, Rodolphe, and his friend, Frédérik. Paul is studying at university but living at home. He is not very keen on his studies but is keen on sports. His father, a doctor at a local hospital, is keen to push him into becoming a doctor, but he resists. His mother finds his diary and discovers to her surprise that he is having an affair with a woman who is both married and has a young child. She is reluctant to say anything as she herself is having an affair, as she is fed up with her controlling husband. The first part of the book – the longest – tracks Madeleine’s regular visits to her son’s diary and her discovery about his interest in the woman, his reluctance to become a doctor and his rivalry with Frédérik, particularly in sports. Of course, we also see her own life, which is one of quiet desperation, unable to control any of her three children, a detachment from her husband and a feeling of alienation.

The second and third parts take place after Paul’s death in a skiing accident. Rodolphe feels some guilt about his controlling treatment of his son and seeks out Frédérik (an orphan) and tries to help him but is generally rebuffed. Interestingly enough he shows little interest in his two remaining sons. Finally, there is Frédérik’s account. His interest seems to go beyond that of normal friendship, though no homosexual relationship is stated by Blais. He is clearly jealous of Paul’s affair. Of course, as this is Blais, all of the four main characters seem out of place in their environments and struggle to adapt to their environment and to the others around them. Three of the main characters are male but the fourth – Madeleine – shows to a certain degree how a woman has to deal with the problem. Not only does she struggle as a mother but her role as an obedient wife is also indicated. Indeed, the French title might translate as the Rebellious Woman, somewhat ironic as Madeleine, apart from her affair, clearly is not but would like to be. But woman or man, as usual Blais leaves us with a disturbing but well-written and lyrical portrait of unhappy people.

Publishing history

First published 1966 by Éditions du Jour
First published in English 1978 by Oberon Press, Ottawa
Translated by David Lobdell