White Out

Martine Delvaux

September 2018

WHITE OUT is at first glance a woman’s invention, over and over again, of the man who chose not to be her father, leaving his young lover pregnant. Yet, arcing from late-1960s Quebec to the present, it is also the story of a young woman, and a generation of young women, caught between Catholicism and free love. Martine Delvaux’s aching take on her own origin story is a book about words lost in a lifetime of storms, about truth and fiction, a book about how something as seemingly commonplace as parentage can undermine everything—confidence, relationships, the body, memory. Through narrative we try to patch our unknowns but narrative, at once foreign and familiar, fails us.

"The compulsive energy of the language, translated into English by Katia Grubisic, is such that it hits the reader like an avalanche or a blinding blizzard." -- Danielle Barklay, mRb, Summer 2018

"This personal story also becomes, in Delvaux's hands, a social history of Quebec from the 1960s through to the present." -- Steven Beattie, Q&Q Omni, 10 July 2018


Author: Martine Delvaux


Martine Delvaux was born in Quebec City and lives in Montreal. After Bitter Rose and The Last Bullet Is For You, White Out is the third of her five novels published in English translation by LLP. Delvaux teaches women’s studies at Université du Québec à Montréal. Blanc dehors, the original French novel now translated into English as White Out, was shortlisted for a 2016 Governor General’s Award for fiction.


 


Translator: Katia Grubisic


Katia Grubisic is a writer, editor, and translator. She was coordinator of the Atwater Poetry Project reading series, and was a founding member of the editorial board for the Icehouse Poetry imprint at Goose Lane Editions. Her own work has appeared in various Canadian and international publications. She has been a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for translation, and her collection of poems What if red ran out won the Gerald Lampert award for best first book. 

$16.95 | ISBN: 9781988130018

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What they say
Danielle Barklay

White Out
Martine Delvaux
Translated by Katia Grubisic

Linda Leith Publishing
$16.95
paper
140pp
9781773900018

In some ways, Martine Delvaux’s White Out is an origin story and a family history. However, as the title indicates, it is a narrative dominated by blankness, where absence matters as much as presence. The absence of the narrator’s father functions as a central void, which threatens to consume anything that is solid and tangible about her life. The text is, by necessity, a story without a climax or resolution; it is driven less by plot than by a series of meditations and unanswered questions. Nonetheless, the compulsive energy of the language, translated into English by Katia Grubisic, is such that it hits the reader like an avalanche or a blinding blizzard. There is little to grasp on to, but the reading experience is consuming.

What the narrator does know: she was born in Quebec City in 1968 to the young daughter of a prominent Montreal family. The narrator’s mother had become pregnant after a short- lived affair and, faced with her family’s disapproval, initially leaves her baby at an orphanage run by nuns. A short time later, her mother returns for her and they go on to live in Montreal with her extended family. While she has regularly questioned her mother about her father’s identity, she has never been able to uncover any significant details. The aim is not to find her father, although she does confess to fantasies of reunion, but to understand how to make sense of her own identity when her life “is the result of ignorance or innocence, nonchalance or a misunderstanding: a mistake and an accident.”

A series of cataclysmic social shifts at the time of the narrator’s birth, particularly the Quiet Revolution, add to the sense of dislocation in her story. At a time that was not so long ago and yet seems impossibly far away, her conception and birth were intimately tied to cultural and religious stigma about illegitimate births. She describes the history of orphanages in Quebec with a detached calm, and reflects on residential schools in Canada and the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland, where women who experienced illegitimate pregnancies were often condemned to lives of hard labour. The underlying commentary on how this societal trauma compounds the narrator’s personal trauma is made all the more impactful by her sparse, unadorned statements: “In 1970, the Quebec Civil Code recognized some of the rights of children born out of wedlock […] In 1981, notions of legitimacy and illegitimacy were officially abolished.” The question lingers: What does this mean for the children born before that? 

One of the most immediate and striking features of White Out is its unusual structure and layout. The text does not contain sections or chapter breaks; it exists as a series of fragments scattered across the pages, rather than the more typical and tidy divisions of sentence, paragraph, and chapter. For example, the first page contains only the text: “This is the end of the story, and the beginning. How does it feel, I get asked, not to know who my father is.” This is followed by a blank page before the content resumes. The narrator’s life lacks the central organizing principle of a father figure, and the disorientation of that experience becomes mirrored in the way the text is presented; readers’ assumption that the words will line up neatly from top to the bottom is something akin to the assumption that a child will originate within the tidy structure of a nuclear family.

While the fragmentation is explicitly connected to the narrator’s sense of lack and loss, perhaps the most hopeful thing about a narrative that risks feeling futile is the way she links her loss to her creative power. Because Nature abhors a vacuum, the lack, the gap, and the wound all become generative: “He left so that I could write.” If this is the only meaning to draw from a primal loss, it is not nothing. Even if the words are fragmented, the page is not blank. mRb

A series of cataclysmic social shifts at the time of the narrator’s birth, particularly the Quiet Revolution, add to the sense of dislocation in her story. At a time that was not so long ago and yet seems impossibly far away, her conception and birth were intimately tied to cultural and religious stigma about illegitimate births. She describes the history of orphanages in Quebec with a detached calm, and reflects on residential schools in Canada and the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland, where women who experienced illegitimate pregnancies were often condemned to lives of hard labour. The underlying commentary on how this societal trauma compounds the narrator’s personal trauma is made all the more impactful by her sparse, unadorned statements: “In 1970, the Quebec Civil Code recognized some of the rights of children born out of wedlock […] In 1981, notions of legitimacy and illegitimacy were officially abolished.” The question lingers: What does this mean for the children born before that?

One of the most immediate and striking features of White Out is its unusual structure and layout. The text does not contain sections or chapter breaks; it exists as a series of fragments scattered across the pages, rather than the more typical and tidy divisions of sentence, paragraph, and chapter. For example, the first page contains only the text: “This is the end of the story, and the beginning. How does it feel, I get asked, not to know who my father is.” This is followed by a blank page before the content resumes. The narrator’s life lacks the central organizing principle of a father figure, and the disorientation of that experience becomes mirrored in the way the text is presented; readers’ assumption that the words will line up neatly from top to the bottom is something akin to the assumption that a child will originate within the tidy structure of a nuclear family.

While the fragmentation is explicitly connected to the narrator’s sense of lack and loss, perhaps the most hopeful thing about a narrative that risks feeling futile is the way she links her loss to her creative power. Because Nature abhors a vacuum, the lack, the gap, and the wound all become generative: “He left so that I could write.” If this is the only meaning to draw from a primal loss, it is not nothing. Even if the words are fragmented, the page is not blank. mRb

"The compulsive energy of the language, translated into English by Katia Grubisic, is such that it hits the reader like an avalanche or a blinding blizzard." Review of Martine Delvaux's White Out, translated into English by Katia Grubisic. Montreal Review of Books, Summer 2018 


The Q&Q Preview
Steven Beatty


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