Her Father’s Daughter

her-fathers-daughter

In Marie Sizun’s Her Father’s Daughter (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter) a young girl must acclimatise herself to the idea of her father’s return, a father who has been missing from her childhood having spent it as a prisoner of war in Germany. The novel is entirely from the child’s point of view, but in the third person; this impressive technical feat ensures there is no disconnect between the viewpoint and the language, while at the same time delivering the perspective of the central character in all its innocence, irony and intuition.

“The child” (her name, patriotically, is France, but her mother’s habitual “my darling” has seen this fade from use; her father will have different ideas) is at first mystified by the idea her father might return. “There isn’t room here,” she says. The impenetrability of her mother’s response indicates that their closeness is threatened:

“The mother gives her that funny look again, slow, unreadable, secret.”

To the child “her entire world and the only imaginable world, is her mother”:

“And it’s this secret, intimate world, their world for just the two of them, that the child can suddenly feel slipping away.”

The father will not be the only thing to come between mother and child: there is also the memory of a trip to Normandy and a baby sister who did not come home with them, a memory of events which both the mother and grandmother deny ever took place – “It’s like a dream but it isn’t a dream.”

Sizun brilliantly charts France’s reaction to her father, an initial hostility (“Inside the child’s head, in her body, something turns to ice”) which slowly transfers itself to her mother. After all, it is she who has abandoned calling her ‘my darling’ and instead transferred that term of affection to her husband:

“The child can see she is no longer the object of her mother’s adoration. The loved one is her father.”

When the father tries to instil the discipline he believes has been lacking – for example, that she eat all the food placed before her – “it’s towards her mother… that all her resentment is directed.” She notices, but is not sympathetic towards, the change in her mother’s character – weaker, deferential, a “docile wife”. Reading between the lines (as the reader must) it seems the husband’s absence has offered the mother as much freedom as the child. Now, with the guilt of a relationship while he was away to contend with, she vainly attempts to please him.

We can also see that much of the father’s irritation is related to the war. He “listens to the radio from morning till night” and the first time he shows his daughter affection is on the day he hears that the Americans have landed. As her relationship with her father improves, however, the relationship between her parents deteriorates.

Her Father’s Daughter is a wonderful evocation of childhood memories. It does not disguise the fact that memory is selective:

“No memories either of the days immediately after that first meeting. A black hole.”

And:

“Of the weeks, the few months that come next, what will one day be left in the child’s memory?”

The memory of Normandy, which ticks like a time-bomb beneath the family, dismissed as a dream, existing, as it does, on the borderline of memory’s beginning. The novel also evokes our early impressions of our parents and the way in which they can colour our long-term relationships. And, of course, it’s also a story of the fading innocence, drifting briefly into second person to make that point:

“That was how one day you stop being a child and you end up calling yourself France, like everyone else.”

Even the placing of the comma – whether the author or translator’s decision – ensures the tone is elegiac, and confirms, above all, how beautifully written this is.

Advertisements

Tags: ,

13 Responses to “Her Father’s Daughter”

  1. Anthony Says:

    I haven’t heard of this writer; the book looks very interesting.

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    Lovely review Grant. I’ve heard good things about this one, and to get inside the mind and voice of a child like that is a real achievement.

  3. Caroline Says:

    It sounds very good. One to put on the wish list. I don’t always like child narrators but since she used third, I wouldn’t mind.

    • 1streading Says:

      It’s the use of third person that is particularly skillful. The problem with a first person narration for a young child is that it’s very difficult to do in the child’s language without seeming artificial.

  4. Tony Says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up on the MBIP longlist. It’s a lovely little book, a slow burner of the type that’s done well in the past.

  5. naomifrisby Says:

    I keep hearing positive things about this one and your review has convinced me to give it a go, despite my hatred of child narrators.

    • 1streading Says:

      This is so well written that any prejudice against child narrators (which I probably share) should not prevent you enjoying it. In fact, it’s a great example of how to do it well.

  6. The Man Booker International Prize 2017 | 1streading's Blog Says:

    […] who are translated. It’s a shame that two excellent Peirene novels (The Empress and the Cake and Her Father’s Daughter) both missed out – Peirene have been represented since 2011 (if we regard the prize as continuing […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: