by Laurence Leduc-Primeau
Ta Mère, 2016
Laurence Leduc-Primeau’s debut novel À la fin ils ont dit à tout le monde d’aller se rhabiller is a quirky, sweet story of overcoming hopelessness and finding human connection. The book takes an intimate look at depression, with a sharp and witty narrator who rides the line between self-aware and self-deprecating.
À la fin is the story of Chloé, a young Québécois woman who travels to an unnamed country in South America, where she lives in a sort of self-imposed exile following a suicide attempt. A series of short vignettes provide a glimpse of Chloé’s scattered thoughts as she attempts to adjust to life in a new setting and recover from her depressive episode. Amidst the quirky observational humour of her internal monologue, a story of loneliness emerges, as she tries (for the most part, unsuccessfully) to form meaningful connections with the people she meets in her new surroundings.
Leduc-Primeau’s prose is at times biting and sarcastic, at times beautiful and reflective.
Chloé’s narration constantly alternates between cynicism and hope. Whether through observational notes about local customs or self-deprecating comments about her inability to fit in, she always maintains a sense of humour while wrestling with her demons. The result is a light approach to heavy topics. While the novel’s mostly casual tone makes for a fun read, the existential passages that are interspersed throughout illustrate the protagonist’s despair in a beautifully simple way that is nonetheless poignant.
Much of the observational humour in À la fin is rooted in the protagonist’s feelings of loneliness. As an outsider in a new country, Chloé spends the majority of her time lost in her (often very dark) thoughts. Throughout the novel, in the absence of anyone to share or connect with, Chloé chats daily with a stain on her wall that she names Betty. As the story progresses, she works up the courage to emerge from her room and try to communicate with her roommates – with only limited success, since she has not yet mastered Spanish. The language barrier between Chloé and the locals serves as a kind of emotional barrier that feeds her feelings of isolation. As she attempts to learn the language, jotting down vocabulary in a notebook and trying to memorize and recreate the sounds she hears, she moves forward in her recovery and opens herself up increasingly to human connection. Forced to rely on the help of others as an outsider, she comes out of her shell, so to speak, but not without keeping precautionary distance. The push-and-pull of Chloé’s emotions as she navigates her issues with intimacy is perfectly illustrated in the novel’s episodic structure.
In contrast with some traditional, more clichéd narratives about troubled characters travelling abroad to find themselves, À la fin resists the urge to dip into overly romanticized descriptions of the country she is living in (which may be why it is never named). Rather than project her internal state onto her surroundings, Chloé remains an observer, who is more concerned about connecting with individuals than fetishizing the local culture. Her status as an outsider is mostly affirmed through the distinctly Québécois language of the novel, with its familiar, punchy slang and anglicisms. This successfully and beautifully conveys the sarcasm, cynicism, and hope of the narrator – sometimes the most poignant writing is the simplest.
À la fin is ultimately a story about coping and growing, and Leduc-Primeau executes the coming-of-age arc perfectly with her quirky debut. The book offers a humorous, thoughtful, and realistic look at the humanity behind mental illness, with descriptions of emotional states that are straightforward and striking. The novel revolves around connections – whether romantic, sexual, or platonic. In the end, Chloé is attempting to reconnect with her feelings by rebuilding her life from the ground up – and her journey is an engaging and entertaining read.
Review by Natalia Hero