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Marie-Claire Blais: Le Jour est noir (The Day is Dark)

This short novel has been the subject of much criticism in France and French-speaking Canada, not least because it is not a conventional, plot-driven novel. Indeed, it is a series of relationships seen by a poet, not a prose writer, even though she is writing in prose. Nor is it an easy read, as Blais is not concerned with details but only with a poetic impression of what is going on. However, if you are prepared to make the effort the same way as you would make the effort for, say, a Francis Bacon painting, you will find this rewarding.

It starts with a group of children, mainly a group of brothers and sisters, whose parents are dead and whose father seems to have killed himself, as well as a couple of others – Josué, a newcomer to the area, who previously lived on an island and Marie-Christine, who seems to come from a rich family. After this prologue, we move to a later period. One of the sisters – Yance – is married to Josué. We follow her, not so much through plot but through her feelings and reactions, as she gets pregnant, has a child, Roxane, and breaks up more than once with Josué. We also follow the troubled relationship of Yance’s brother Raphaël with Marie-Christine. Indeed, short though the book is, Blais gives us a story of a family who have not adapted to the untimely death of their parents but who, like all Blais characters, have difficulty relating to others and turn in on themselves. The way she does it – impressionistically – makes for fascinating reading.

Publishing history

First published 1962 by Éditions du Jour
First published in English 1967 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Translated by Derek Coltman