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Marie Redonnet: Forever Valley (Forever Valley)

The anonymous heroine is this novel is a sixteen year old at the start of the novel who is illiterate. She lives with the retired priest (the church is collapsing and, by the end of the novel, even its remains have virtually disappeared) who is getting old and less able to care for himself. They live in the rectory in Forever Valley, a hamlet in the mountains which is gradually shrinking. The other main inhabitant of Forever Valley is Massi, widow of the mayor and teacher (as with the priest, neither functions have been replaced). To supplement her meagre savings, she decides to open a dance hall for the local shepherds and the customs officers who live in the valley below. While dancing is the initial order of business, prostitution is the main purpose. Our heroine works there and dances with and then has sex with the customs officers. But the customs officers have problems and cannot come and, gradually, the dance hall ceases to have a raison d’être and Massi closes it and moves down to the valley below.

Our heroine, however, has another task. She is determined to find the dead of Forever Valley. There is no cemetery so she guesses they must be buried in the rectory garden and plans a systematic digging up of the garden (with the agreement of the priest) to find them. She does not. The priest dies, she buries him in one of the holes and moves down to the valley below to live with Massi.

The story has the feel of a fairy tale, as Redonnet tells the tale in a straightforward manner. It is never clear where we are. There is Forever Valley, with mountains at one end and the valley below with the frontier at the other. It has the slight feel of Coetzee‘s Waiting for the Barbarians. The customs officers have English names but it does not feel like any English-speaking country I know. Of course, it does not matter where it is for Redonnet is concerned only with showing, in a poetic style, the inevitability of events in life and death.

Publishing history

First published in French 1987 by Les Éditions de Minuit
First published in English 1994 by University of Nebraska Press
Translated by Jordan Stump