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Jacques Mercanton: L’été des Sept-Dormants [The Summer of the Seven Sleepers]

A long and strange book, it reminded me somewhat (but only somewhat) of Proust, in its invocation of memories and of Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) in its story of an enclosed community, more or less of the world but cut off from it. The community is set near the Danube and is poetically called Waldfried (which literally means wood peace). It is the home of the Laachs – Master Laach, as he is referred to, and his wife, Maria. It is also the home to various boarders they take in to supplement their income. If there is a story – and there isn’t really – it is about the relationship between Nicolas, the narrator, and the Belgian Bruno van der Weiden, another boarder and beloved by all.

But Mercanton is not interested in plot. His novel – and it is a long one – is a poetical evocation of this paradise lost which seems, like Mann’s Magic Mountain, to hover somewhat precariously between dream and reality. Some critics have likened it to a river (as they did with Proust) meandering its way, like the Danube, which plays an important role in this novel. For others it is the meeting of the religions with Maria as a sibylline figure but with Christianity (the pure, rural, unsullied Christianity), Islam and, of course, pagan religions merging together. But, ultimately, Mercanton’s long novel is one of those novels that stands aside from the mainstream, going its own way, making for strange but fascinating reading. Pity it’s not available in English.

Publishing history

First published in French 1974 by Bertil Galland, Lausanne
No English translation