Book Review: The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Gaétan Soucy

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches – Gaétan Soucy (A List, 2016)

This was such a weird book. I really don’t know what to say about it. I’ve had it on my TBR for years, added, I think, based on somme list of classic Canadian fiction. It’s a work from a Quebec author, translated from the original French by Sheila Fischman. (And, I have to say, based on the strange and ungrammatical language used throughout the novel, I have to applaud Fischman.

The story is narrated by one of two brothers (allegedly), beginning on the morning that they find their father dead in their home. The narrator’s language is strange and difficult to follow, using the wrong words or creating new names for everyday items. We can gather that these are little more than children left behind, who have been entirely isolated their whole lives. Their father and the estate where they live has been their whole world and so his unexpected death leaves them entirely unsure of what to do.

The narrator decides to go into the nearby village to obtain a coffin for their father’s body. There she interacts with other people for the first time and we learn a little more about what might be truly happening. In the second part of the novel, the narrator has returned to the estate and is frantically attempting to decipher the world surrounding these two children, barricaded into a sort of vault with something the family refers to as The Fair Punishment.

It’s a hard book to talk about without giving much away. But at the same time, it was hard to decipher the action from the words on the page. At least, I found it difficult and so I did something I never do which is that I went to the Wikipedia page for the book and read the plot summary. I was still in Part 1 when I did this and it helped immensely as I went along. As such though I can’t say for sure whether or not I would have figured out what was happening on my own. I’m inclined to think a lot of it would have passed me by and I don’t think I’m an unobservant reader.

The introduction of the copy I read comes from Canadian writer Rawi Hage. I skipped it initially because I didn’t want the story spoiled (I find intros to classic books often do spoil the plot and this one was no different). But approximately two-thirds into the book I decided to see if Mr. Hage could cast any light on why I was reading what I was. The brief introduction suggests that the book acts as a sort of statement about the role of the Catholic Church in Quebec and I guess I can kind of see that once it’s laid out for me. Would I have come to that conclusion on my own? No. But I’m neither Catholic of Quebecois so it’s possible I’m simply not the right audience for this book.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Gaétan Soucy”

    1. Hard work is a good way to describe it. The Wikipedia trick works for when I’m lost but not quite ready to give up on a book. The plot here was too obscured for me so it helped a lot!

  1. This weirdo book sounds like something I would love. I truly enjoyed Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon, and that is rife with made up words and concepts, and it’s all strange like you don’t know what’s happening other than this teen girl is a lesbian, but it’s set in mid-twentieth century when you couldn’t tell people you were a lesbian.

    1. You might! It’s creepy but more in a messed up family way than monsters and I had no idea what was happening for most of it and the narrator doesn’t make much sense. Which fits her character but I found frustrating. You might get along better with it!

  2. Good on you for looking up the plot summary on Wikipedia – I probably would have done the same thing, or looked it up on Goodreads or something similar. I really hate to be SO LOST in a book I have no idea what’s going on. Definitely takes the enjoyment away…

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