The spirits of the earth by Catherine Colomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spirits of the Earth by Catherine Colomb

Swiss-French fiction

Original title – Les Esprits de la terre

Translator – John Taylor

Source – review copy via Tranalstor

II was contacted by John the translator of this novel as he felt it had fallen out of sight and shouldn’t have done. I agree as it is a clever little modernist novel. Catherine Colomb was orphaned when she was five and grew up in her grandparent’s house in the canton of Vaud where she spent most of her life. As it is elegantly put on her french Wiki page between old families and the parks, castles, lake, and vineyards of the region. Her four novels were all set in this region THis book came out in 1953.

In the hallways of Fraidaigue, one will henceforth have meet up with the dead Abrham attending to his transparent affairs while running into his mother whose head is topped off with some snowy construction, his sister isabelle surrounded by her suitors, and his deformed brother Ulysse pressinf a black marble inkpot against his chest with his dwarfed ar, . And Uncle Cesar? where Uncle Cesar ? HIs dear nephew has just fallen from the cornice and vanished !

This from the opening page remind me of Manderley and also I wondered if the name Ulysse was a nod towards Joyce ?

The book has a great intro by the translator himself that talks about Catherine life and the book the book has echoes of her own life as it has a lot of death and loss in it like she experienced at an early age. The book is set in two homes owned by the same family an older brother Cesar and his sister Zoe and two other brothers Eugene and Adolphe. The two brothers have been happily Married for a while and each lives at the families two properties. Fraidaigue John explains in his intro this means cold water and is the lakeside home of the family they also have Masion d’en Haut the families country estate. The book is a modernist work that follows these four lives and the deaths that happen in these families like their parents and nephews. It follows the family mainly through the eyes of Cesar a man that lost his closest friends when young and the world he lives in is filled with both the living and the ghost of those he once knew. He should be the head of the family but is just wandering the world as a victim.

Meanwhile, with the coming of spring, a strangely feverish Cesar was leaving the Masion d’en Haut and looking forward to seeing the naked pale purplish earth of the first vineyard; standing at the bottom of the Avenue, Melanie, watching him vanish, she placed her hand on her tumultuous breasts, squattering in front of the emerald green faience stove, all sisterlyaffection done away with and dressed in the white gown of insane women, Zoe was warming her fingers, with their overgrown nails, for the last time that season. When Cesar leaves. this means winter has given way, that the osier bushes are reddening at the edges of the stream, that the whole world is taking on the smell of th stables and manure

The world she knew so well is shown through how Cesar lives his life moving through the seasons from place to place never settling.

This is a high modernist novel in a way in his intro John says she was often compared to Woolf I can see this there is part of a world-changing like in Mrs. Dalloway where we see a woman look back over an evening over her life and the changing post world war. In this case, we see Cesar a man caught out of time drifting between the worlds of the living and dead. I’d like to suggest another writer I think inspired her maybe Du Maurier for me she often used her local Cornwall and Vaud both have the feeling of places caught out of time. The house in this book reminds me of the way Manderley is described in Rebecca the ghosts of those they have known is clinging to the walls of these houses. There is also the menace of what happened in these houses before in both books. John has done a poetic of her words he is mainly a Poetry translator and this shows how he has kept what at times are fragile narratives of a world between the living and dead.A touching and challenging read that has the reader wondering where they are for long after they put the book down.

Have you read this book or any other Swiss list books from Seagull books ?

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Feb 06, 2019 @ 10:22:56

    It’s a beautiful cover:)

    Reply

  2. Tony
    Feb 06, 2019 @ 10:24:41

    Yes, it’s an excellent book, one I enjoyed immensely (worth a reread at some point).

    Reply

  3. WordsAndPeace
    Feb 06, 2019 @ 18:48:32

    I’m intrigued!

    Reply

  4. Trackback: That was the month that was feb 2019 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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