a review by Peter McCambridge
In Évelyne de la Chenelière’s new play, an adaptation of Marie Cardinal’s novel Une vie pour deux, a couple from France, Pierre and Simone, take a vacation to Ireland. Ireland, land of saints and scholars. The Emerald Isle, more grey than green. Ireland, with “its bloody history and its dead language.”
Pierre and Simone have survived the “old-fashioned, absurd, incomprehensible customs” of “a wedding in white” for their families’ sake, dreaming all the while of an “open relationship.” Over the years they have both practised “high infidelity, closing our eyes and gritting our teeth.” But things changed when Simone got pregnant with their first child:
“We started seeing each other as strange objects.
Yes, of course, a woman, but what do you do with a woman once she’s your wife?
Perhaps, deep down inside, without admitting it,
we hoped to become
what is commonly called
a proper family.”
The vacation in Ireland is meant to get this proper family, this regular couple, back on track. But they are still unpacking when Pierre finds the body of a young woman washed up on the beach. They bring the body back to life in their minds, reconstructing events, reinventing her life together, and now there is a second story, a second couple: Mary and Billy. In this reinvented life, young Mary is pregnant and going to get married. Soon Billy “will be able to say my wife, my son, my house, my car, my fish, isn’t that amazing?” Their son will be born in America, “far from disapproving eyes.”
It remains to be seen whether this washed-up mermaid will prove the couple’s salvation or will drag them under. She at once attracts and repels, representing both the “attractive emptiness” of the hypnotizing void and “a fertile land, a new world, a garden.” At times she brings the couple closer together, at others she threatens to widen the gulf between them. And along the way Évelyne de la Chenelière explores freedom and pleasure, give and take, femininity, motherhood, and childhood.
The play is a sharp mix of imagery and poetic language grounded in down-to-earth events. What, after all, could be more down-to-earth than a struggling couple hoping to get away from it all, hoping for a fresh start? And what could be richer in imagery and more poetic than an “immortal mermaid,” “a white, passive flower, floating eternally petrified in the beauty of her youth”? Throughout, long soliloquies spill over with natural analogies and echoing, self-pitying thoughts are reined back in by tighter, shorter exchanges as Évelyne de la Chenelière walks the line between the language of longing and the language of everyday life.
In Linda Gaboriau’s spot-on translation, as fluent as it is faithful, each word is as visceral as the titles of the fragments that divide the play (Blood and Tears, The Belly, The Tongue, The Flesh…). It makes for an intense read, a play packed full of poetry and profound questions. ≈
From Flesh and Other Fragments of Love
by Évelyne de la Chenelière
≈ translated by Linda Gaboriau (Playwrights Canada Press, 2014)
Igot to know blood, globule by globule.
Blood sucked in and blood pumped out of the heart,
its vital course and the many ways it could flow in the wrong direction, or escape,
I never ceased to marvel at all that.
This knowledge made all men seem the same to me.
Why choose one when they are all irrigated by similar globules.
That night, I wanted to lose my virginity.
Make some of that precious blood flow.
Any man would be fine, as long as he knew what to do.
I wanted to join the girls who know.
But they know no matter how much we long to discover the New World,
it’s sadly similar to the one we left behind.
Only our way of looking at things changes,
for a while, at least.
Before long, we admit there is no love in our desire for someone else,
there is no love in our desperate need for someone else,
everything is mechanical.
We get married without love,
we make love without love,
we build cities without love,
we light them at night without love.
There is no love in their countless streets
where we pace and pass houses where there is no love,
where a mother protects her children without love
like a bird roosts on her eggs, without love.
And all that, the cities, the coasts, the moors, the ports, the mountains,
the bleak ties that entangle people,
in all of that, there is no love.
Love doesn’t exist.
Only blood and tears are real.
No love in the doctor’s acts.
Only hygiene, calm, authority.
No love in those endlessly repeated acts,
examining throats, eyes, passive bodies,
checking for tumours,
there is no love in any of that.
And yet that is all the sick long for,
otherwise they would hide to lick their wounds
and wait for them to heal.
The sick long to be examined with love,
to be told you’ll be all right,
Don’t worry, you’re not going to die.
You’re not going to die.
I love you too much to let you die.
(bleeding between her thighs) Pierre! I’m bleeding!
I’m wounded! I’m bleeding.
I’m bleeding the blood of the world!
All of humanity’s blood, drop by drop, month by month,
assimilated in my belly.
The hemorrhaging is endless.
Blood and tears form the rivers that flow since life began.
Long rivers of despair in which the Ophelias of this world drown regularly.
Someone spots something pale in the dark water, then long hair.
Pierre! I’m sinking!
An incessant seeping forms rivulets, drops, streams, currents, threads, trickles, lumps, bubbles, jets, clots,
fountains of oil, lava, magma,
floods of viscous, milky, clear, thick, warm, murky secretions,
red, brown, black, raspberry torrents,
porridge, jam, jelly, silt, compotes of me,
all of me in this endless tide,
I will spill all of me in long, gushing spurts.
I’m afraid, Pierre.
I’m afraid of becoming dry, parched.
Look how I’m pouring.
Look how I’m leaking.
Look how I’m flowing.
I’m an old pen,
a leaky pail.
I am overflowing,
I’m drowning, flooding.
There’s no saving me.
Help me, Pierre!
before I dry up!
You’re so dramatic, Simone.
I’m not dramatic, I’m tragic. ≈