‘Suzanne’ by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette

Anais Barbeau-Lavalette never knew her grandmother Suzanne, an artist who abandoned her husband and children to find her freedom. Originally published in French (La Femme qui fuit), and translated by Rhonda Mullins, this is an imagined story based on historical clues. This is how Canada Reads 2019 describes it:
“Suzanne, winner of the Prix des libraires du Québec and a bestseller in French, is a fictionalised account of Suzanne’s life over 85 years, from Montreal to New York to Brussels, from lover to lover, through an abortion, alcoholism, Buddhism and an asylum. It takes readers through the Great Depression, Québec’s Quiet Revolution, women’s liberation and the American civil rights movement, offering a portrait of a volatile, fascinating woman on the margins of history. And it’s a granddaughter’s search for a past for herself, for understanding and forgiveness.”

The family had always seen the grandmother negatively as the rebel who abandoned her children. So the author wrote this book to gain a more sympathetic view of Suzanne, to discover why she did what she did. Unfortunately, though lyrically written and epic in scope considering what it all covers in a small novel, the book just didn’t work for me. In fact, it achieved the opposite. To me Suzanne came across as selfish and self-indulgent, blindly seeking happiness and satisfaction and never achieving it because of a lingering guilt about the loss and the cost of leaving. It was telling to me, that Suzanne never seemed to settle down after she left, but meandered from lover to lover, and cause to cause. There was no redemption in the end, which made it all feel rather empty. Books like Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls have similar themes, but somehow were able to create more empathy in me.

Yanic Truesdale, Michel from Gilmour Girls, will be defending the book in the debate. Here is Yanic in an interview with the author.

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