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Le voleur d'enfants by Jules Supervielle
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Le voleur d'enfants

by Jules Supervielle

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This is a very odd novel. And it seems to be as obscure as it is odd: even French amazon has only one review and, apart from discovering that a movie had been made from the book (how?), I can find little information about it.

Colonel Philomen Bigua and his wife have acquired three children, two of whom had been abandoned and one whom the Colonel kidnapped. As the book opens, he is kidnapping a fourth. A fifth child is later got; it's the presence of this one, the only girl, that becomes the undoing of the family.

Part of the strangeness lies in a serene detachment, not only of tone but of the characters themselves. One mother scarcely notices her child's absence and upon his return allows him to visit the Colonel often. The children adapt readily to their new parents and household. For much of the book the Colonel seems content to lead a life of sewing, drinking mate, and talking to himself. And, partly because none of the characters is sympathetic, the reader is likely to feel that same detachment. Supervielle's style and presentation also have a strange feel: he shifts setting and point of view freely but each person, whether tortured by lust or quietly praying, and each event has the same pitch, the same tone. The translator describes Supervielle's 'view of the universe' as a lighthouse beam, illuminating various objects and then moving on to pick out others. That seems to me a good analogy for the way The Colonel's Children is written.

It's not only for its oddness that I like this book: it's interesting, understated, rather evocative, and well-written, with the sort of perspectives and associations one would expect from a poet (it's for his poetry that Supervielle is best known). Overall, having read it is like having had a dream that one keeps returning to and wondering over the next day.
1 vote bluepiano | Feb 28, 2014 |
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