Blog Tour – April 2022 – Vanda – Marion Brunet (trans – Katherine Gregor)

So, a piece of translated fiction – something crimeworm is somewhat fond of!

Indeed! Although, to be fair, it’s generally from slightly further north – Scandinavia and Iceland, to be specific. The last piece of French-translated fiction I read was the excellent Leila Slimani’s Lullaby, which was the first book I read when I came to in the National Spinal Unit, and which was a fantastic distraction from the question of whether I would ever walk again – I suspect it has to be a particularly gripping book to take one’s mind off that particular question! (The answer is, I can, but only with crutches, and then only for short distances – anything more ambitious has to be done by wheelchair! Still, there’s always worse scenarios, and I saw many of them in there, and met some people whose tenacity and spirit put me to shame. Some of us still stay in touch.)

Anyway, you’re digressing! Tell us about Vanda….

Well, it can be classed as that current favourite of mine (and many others) – the psychological thriller, but it’s also a family drama too. It’s a slimline volume, coming in at 202 pages, which makes a refreshing change – when so many other books I’m currently reading hit the 400 page mark, it’s nice to meet something that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

At the moment, I’m currently racing through Shuggie Bain, and I see a lot of similarities in the two books – they both feature an almost unhealthily close relationship between and son, with the son dedicated to his mother. However, unlike many readers I wouldn’t describe Shuggie Bain as depressing – so much of it is joyously familiar to me, thus far, and very Scottish, but I’ll be reviewing that as soon as I finish it.

So it’s about an close mother-and-son – tell us more about them…

They live very frugally, with Vanda working as a cleaner in a psychiatric hospital, and driving a run-down car. Noe and Vanda’s home is a one room shack on the beach, which is often in danger of flooding. Vanda indulges her own weaknesses – unsuitable men, illegal substances, and alcohol, and sees nothing wrong with leaving Noe to fend for himself. Despite her neglect, she and Noe are devoted to each other and have no involvement with family or friends.

Doesn’t Noe have a father figure?

His father, Simon, doesn’t even know of his existence, having left Marseilles before his birth for Paris, where he has built a lucrative career and met Chloe, his affluent Parisian girlfriend. He returns to Marseilles when his mother is dying, intending to settle her affairs and return to his life in Paris.

However, he starts to rethink his future when he learns to his surprise that he is a father – something he’d always assumed was highly unlikely with Chloe. His time in his hometown with extended family starts to make him reconsider his possible future. His intention to return to Paris is conflicted by the news that he is a father, and that he may be in a position to provide for his son in a better fashion than Vanda is currently doing. This, however, is not what Chloe wants to hear…

How does Vanda react to Simon’s involvement?

As you’d anticipate, she’s not happy – as far as she’s concerned she and Noe are doing just fine alone together, and no outside help is either needed or desired – even from her son’s own father. She starts to regret Simon ever finding out about his son.

So the reader will end up being torn between Noe’s two parents, and what’s best for his future…?

Pretty much…Vanda clearly loves her son a great deal, but isn’t best equipped to make the best decisions as a parent. Simon may have the material things, and good intentions, but he’s ultimately a stranger to Noe. Where does his future best lie? It’s a dilemma, and one with no ideal solution.

I found it a compelling, easy read, and beautifully – seamlessly – translated. Its short length means it’s an easy book to get through, and marks Marion Brunet’s name as one to be watched when it comes to translated fiction. It’s my intention to track down a copy of The Summer Of Reckoning, her first book for adults (she’d previously written successfully for the YA market) too.

Very highly recommended, particularly to fans of translated fiction.

With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC. This has in no way influenced my opinion of this book, and this is an unbiased review.

Author Marion Brunet

Translator Katherine Gregor

Have a look at the rest of the Blog Tour!

BLURB: A psychological thriller set in Southern France. Brunet has followed on from the success of “the Summer of Reckoning” with this magnificent portrait of a woman and a mother, a beautiful and often poetic tale that is unflinching about social and personal violence. Set in Marseilles, this is the story of Vanda, a beautiful woman in her thirties, arms covered in tats, skin so dark that some take her for a North African. Devoted to her six-year-old son Noé, they live in a derelict shed by the beach. She had wanted to be an artist; she is now a cleaner in a psychiatric hospital. But Vanda is happy living alone, like a mama bear with her cub. “The two of them against the world”, as she says. Everything changes when Simon, the father of her son, surfaces in Marseilles. He had left Vanda seven years earlier, not knowing that she was pregnant. When Simon demands custody of his son, Vanda’s suppressed rage threatens to explode. The tension becomes unbearable, both parents fully capable of extreme violence.

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