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Atonement by Gaétan Soucy

Atonement (1999)

by Gaétan Soucy

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I read Soucy's The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, found it quite haunting, and finally got around to reading this one. The former dealt with a bizarre, even grotesque, situation; this, with a unremarkable one, yet it's still more unsettling, even to the point of being upsetting.

The story is of the return of Louis Bapaumbe, a second-string church organist, to the village where he'd taught music twenty years earlier. It's a journey he feels compelled to make: He must at any cost speak with a former pupil. Somehow Soucy tells the story with all its twists and turns in 100 or so pages and manages to give depth to the characters, create several mysteries, include many memorable and often strange details (the extracted molar that Bapaumbe finds soothing, a soldier's eagerness to mend a teddy bear savaged by an owl, the steam rising from a thawing corpse), and engage both the reader's intellect and his emotions. It's a very atmospheric book as well, though oddly one doesn't get a feeling for the forests and snow and short dark days Soucy describes, perhaps because the effort of describing them shows: metaphorical phrases don't sit well in book with this sort of tone.

Some of what happens is not wholly explained and some not at all. If you like me are keen on stories that leave unanswered questions and that have you going back looking for clues after finishing them you might very well like this. I've little doubt that this is a book that will stay in the back of my mind for quite a good while.
  bluepiano | Dec 30, 2016 |
Twenty years after leaving a tiny village, Louis Bapaume returns with the intention of making amends with a girl he wronged. File this one under “Bizarre.” The story unfolds over the course of one day and is a hazy enigma. There are no clear lines delineating truth from memory, reality from dream. What could be frustrating or annoying, though, is actually quite brilliant and breathtaking. Soucy has a firm grip on this elusive little tale and masterfully drops clues like breadcrumbs to lead the reader to the truth about Bapaume’s mission. The prose is lovely, and I can only imagine how fantastic it is in the original French. Highly recommended for those who like surreal riddles and enjoy the work of Nabakov or Calvino. ( )
  Her_Royal_Orangeness | Mar 21, 2012 |
Atonement is an odd and oddly fascinating book about the perils of memory and the benefits of forgetfulness. It won't be to everyone's taste because, as I said, it's odd. I liked the book but I think it will take more than one reading to fully understand it. Full review: http://www.canadianauthors.net/s/soucy_gaetan/atonement.php ( )
1 vote ripleyy | Nov 25, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0887847803, Paperback)

Twenty years after being chased out of his tiny village, Louis Bapaume returns to Saint-Aldor to make amends. Over the course of one bright winter solstice, Bapaume confronts old neighbors and villagers and encounters haunting figures he can't quite recognize. But there’s only one person he seeks: the twin girl he taught to read music and to whom he wishes to atone. In this intricate, disquieting novel, the line between reality and dreams shifts in the swirling storm of one man’s conscience.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:13 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Atonement is Sheila Fischman's translation of Gaetan Soucy's brilliant novel, originally published in French as L'Acquittement. Twenty years after leaving the tiny village of Saint Aldor, Louis Bapaume has come home to make amends. During that one blustery winter solstice day, between the railway station and the church where a funeral mass is underway, he meets old villagers, forgotten neighbors, and characters who are either imagined or real. But there's only one person he seeks: the von Croft twin he taught to read music and to whom he wants to atone. Soucy creates a world where nothing is left to chance and the line between dream and reality is always shifting.… (more)

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