As the Scotiabank Giller prize announcement looms, I am still reading through the 6 short-listed books. The Party Wall is my 4th of the 6 books that I am trying to finish before the Monday November 7th announcement of the winner. It was written by Catherine Leroux in French and translated by Laser Lederhendler. This book has kept me scratching my head and puzzling over the timing and relationships of the intertwined stories of 4 sets of siblings. It is unique, complex and difficult to describe in a way that will not spoil the story for readers.
The novel alternates between 4 unique storylines which focus on family relationships including:
Madeleine and Madeleine – A mother learns more about her past and her genetics as she attempts to foster a relationship with her vagabond son who has returned home. She hosts an odd mix of characters who haphazardly arrive and stay at her home since her husband died (a storyline that could have been expanded to describe his own “colourful” past).
Monette and Angie – This storyline is the shortest and least detailed, with only a couple of pages composing each of their chapters. This section describes the two young girls on a walk to the store and how tragedy strikes on a routine, sunny day.
Mariel and Marie – This ambitious couple have climbed to the top of the political game. They are struggling with their notoriety and the media attention when they discover details about their genetic history that derail Ariel’s political future.
Carmen and Simon – They are a brother and sister raised by a singe mother. They have come together at her deathbed with questions about their father which she had always refused to answer. Following her death they learn the truth about their parentage from details written by their mother’s helper, sending their lives into chaos.
Trying to discover the links between the stories kept me engaged in the novel. I appreciated that the creative storylines were inspired by true events (which the author described at the end of the novel). I also liked the metaphor of the party wall which is described by the free dictionary as “a partition erected on a property boundary, partly on the land of now owner and partly on the land of another, to provide common support to the structures on both sides of the boundary”. Like a party wall, the relationships have common threads which link them together yet barriers that keep them apart.
What I struggled with was the timelines. As I was reading, it was not clear when events were happening yet upon learning the relationships between the stories, it was made clear that the stories were not happening simultaneously. I also didn’t appreciate the future tense of Mariel’s story with his political leanings in a future Montreal. I wonder if this is a book that would benefit a second read to pick up on the clues to relationships sooner but with such a mountainous to be read pile, this will not be a priority.
I am looking forward to hearing from Leroux at the Giller event in Toronto tomorrow and am hoping to learn more about her writing process. I would like to understand why this author had her book translated by Lederhendler when she herself has worked as a translator. It is interesting to know that she had grown up as a daughter of a librarian and had aspirations of writing since grade 2 in an article in the Montreal Gazette. How exciting it must be for Leroux to be honoured with being chosen for the Giller shortlist!