“Forest Woman”, by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette: among the trees, reborn

In the great Canadian air.

“Forest Woman”, by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, JC Lattès, 276 p., €20.90, digital €15.

No doubt it is necessary to accept not to understand everything. Not immediately. Get rid of your reflexes as an avid reader for meaning. No difficulty in reading, however, in this fourth novel by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette. The sentences are short, the chapters short. The Quebec writer and filmmaker recounts scenes from the life she leads with her family, in the heart of the forest, after leaving Montreal. Installed in the “Blue House”the time of the health crisis of 2020, not far from the “Red House” where her parents live, she escapes the anxieties of confinement by walking in the woods, and recalls episodes from her childhood and adolescence.

Where one would expect an introspective narrative, or a projection of the narrator’s moods onto the grandiose and tormented landscape that surrounds her, forest woman overturns the reader’s expectations. The author describes without interpreting. She names the trees, the animals, the insects that surround her. Juxtaposes scenes and chapters, favoring the ellipse to the expression of logical links. The confusion – and the enchantment – ​​that seizes the reader as he progresses through the story is largely due to the way that Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette experiences a relationship to the outside world other than the one in which it was familiar, and to lead us there in its wake. A relationship which is not one of mastery or influence over nature, but which cannot be reduced either to a feeling of communion with the elements.

We walk like this in this novel without knowing where we are going, or not always. While having the feeling that it is precisely to this loss of the usual landmarks that we owe the originality of the book – at no time does the author take us by the hand to guide us through the intricacies of her writing. It is necessary to venture with confidence between the pages, as one would decide to enter undergrowth. “A forest without a straight path is a happy forest, writes the novelist. It is flourishing if we have to zigzag between its trees and its dead trunks, which make other lives possible. Salamanders and a collection of insects will take refuge there and feed on it. »

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Revisiting his memories in the light of this principle, listing the different “dropouts”escapes or brutal deaths that have marked her family history, the narrator draws from the cycle of nature the energy she lacks when a “nasty virus” shut down the planet. She knows it well: “The country is there, magnificent and masterful, all around and under my feet. The country holds me. But the words I have left to say it are dry and empty. Even the word “nature” has all crumbled away, it no longer has any brilliance or light. It will therefore be a question of putting words back into the world. It will therefore be a rebirth. »

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