Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for Real Life by Adeline Dieudonne!
Here’s a little info about the book:
At home there are four bedrooms: one for her, one for her little brother Sam, one for her parents, and one for the carcasses. Her father is a big-game hunter, a powerful predator, and her mother is submissive to her violent husband’s demands. The young narrator spends the days with Sam, playing in the shells of cars dumped for scrap and listening out for the melody of the ice-cream truck, until a brutal accident shatters their world. The uncompromising pen of Adeline Dieudonne wields flashes of brilliance as she brings her characters to life in a world that is both dark and sensual. This breathtaking debut is a sharp and funny coming-of-age tale in which reality and fantasy collide.
And about author Adeline Dieudonne:
ADELINE DIEUDONNÉ was born in 1982 and lives in Brussels. A playwright and short-story writer, her first novella, Amarula, was awarded the Grand Prix of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Two further booklets were published by Editions Lamiroy in 2017: Seule dans le noir and Bonobo Moussaka. Real Life was recently awarded the prestigious Prix du Roman FNAC, the Prix Rossel, the Prix Renaudot des Lycéens, and the Prix Filigrane, a French prize for a work of high literary quality with wide appeal. Dieudonné also performs as a stand-up comedian. ROLAND GLASSER is an award-winning translator of French literature, based in London.
And here’s Paul Burke’s review of Real Life:
This is a strikingly original coming of age novel; poignant, sensual and emotionally wrought. The ten-year-old narrator of Real Life is fiercely protective of her little brother Sam, four years younger, they are caught up in the maelstrom of her parents dysfunctional and violent relationship. Like all children she has a temporary escape, her imagination and what she can make of the world outside the home which she guides her brother through. This quietly angry novel packs quite a punch, the words and phrase are chosen for their visceral impact on the reader. Such stories often pivot on a brutal incident or event but Dieudonné has added her own little twist here, there’s a sleight of hand in play and the tragic event that the children witness both takes the reader deeper into the story and paradoxically further away from its real meaning at the same time. The young narrator, who grows up over the course of the story, is intelligent (she may even have it in her to be the next great female scientist, Marie Curie becomes her idol when she is told about the x-ray). She is also resilient, a little word rich for someone her age, but the word play is an important driver for this novel, so this is not a significant downside. Typical for her age, and situation, her understanding of the world is inchoate, naive, but her interpretations of events are viciously comic and wonderfully imaginative (a budding Billy Liar). For a debut, this is an incredibly powerful excoriation of toxic relationships and the damage done to the next generations by violence within the family. The father who appears more in silhouette than fully fleshed out is vile.
From the first paragraph, the tension begins to build, the reader becomes aware of something very wrong but the reveal is exquisitely slow, it increases our anxiety and sense of foreboding as time ticks. There are four bedrooms in this house, one for the narrator, one is Sam’s, their parents, of course, and one for the animals. Their father is a hunter, there are deer calves, wild boar, stage, antelope, springboks, impala, a lion, a hyena whose stare scares the children and lots of photos of her father with a carcass and a rifle:
“The centerpiece of his collection, his pride and joy was an elephant tusk. I heard him tell my mother . . . The real difficulty have been making contact with the poachers and avoiding the patrolling game wardens. And then removing the tasks from the still-warm body: utter carnage.”
The man in the photos is more like a ‘rebel fighter high on genocidal adrenaline’ than a father. Her mother fears her father. She observes her mother as lifeless, soulless, incapable of standing up for herself, simply the cook (and not a very good one at that, her meals have neither ‘creativity nor taste’). It’s a cruel impression, one she can’t see beyond. She has no idea of the reasons her mother appears to be a shell of her former self these days, she only knows these days. Only the goats in the garden animate her mother, she is protective to them. The narrator can hardly fathom why her parents married in the first place.
They live on a housing development, a 70s experiment, hence the nickname, The Demo. Behind the homes, theirs is in the outer ring of properties, is Little Gallows wood and beyond that the broken car graveyard where they play. Sam often curls under her arm in bed at night, his laughter ‘could heal any wound’. In the woods is Monika’s house, a woman who tells them stories about dragons, she imagines Monika is a witch, or at least has magical powers. Perhaps it will take magical powers to set the world to right.
When a tragic accident happens on the estate, right in front of the children, her parents try to ignore it. But it affects both children, she is tormented by the idea that she may have been responsible for what happened and Sam changes, symbolised by his new friendship with the hyena in the fourth bedroom. With the world gone wrong, other dark events happen, the girl devises a plan to change things but life intervenes, reality bites. We follow the family over five years. The denouement is fraught with peril, as shocking as it inevitable. Real Life is evocative and touching, this novel grabs your heart. Beautifully Translated by Roland Glasser.
Paul Burke 4/4
Real Life by Adeline Dieudonne
World Editions 9781912987016 pbk Feb 2020