Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Faces on the Tip of my Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano

translated by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis

I'm not sure whether to describe this latest book from Peirene as a novel or a collection of short stories; the thirteen stories which make up the English version of Emmanuella Pagnano's work read like something falling between the two. Although each can stand alone, they link together to bring to life the inhabitants of a remote community high on a plateau in rural France. 

Some of the shorter pieces are more vignettes than stories, capturing a moment or mood rather than telling a tale, but I found a sense of loss - of happiness, or innocence - pervading them all. They aren't stories of 'happy ever after', more of the things that can go wrong in life - whether devastating like the accidental death of a small child, or the dark comedy of a random stranger turning up at a wedding instead of the expected relative. A childish prank goes wrong, an elderly man whose only purpose in life is automatically trotting out the tales of the district, another who waits everyday at the spot on a mountain road where his family died, a woman weighed down by life trying to commit suicide but thwarted by random strangers.

The plateau itself seems a slightly other-worldly place - the weather is always colder to that in the valley below - and somewhere that 'misfits' can find a home. In some of the stories there's a feeling that life is simpler there, that people are more in touch with themselves and nature, but maybe they're just more inured to pain and suffering.

At first the stories appear to be a random selection linked only by location, but as the reader progresses the relationship between them becomes apparent. Characters, while not appearing in every tale, show up again here and there, often seen from a different point of view, or at a different point in time; the child in one becomes the parent in another. Noticing this, seeing how the stories fit together, has the satisfaction of spotting that strangely-shaped jigsaw puzzle you've been searching for and seeing the whole picture come together as it slots into its space.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction

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