I picked up this novella thinking it might be a light read, and was quickly reminded to not judge books by covers, shapes, sizes, or page lengths. This wasn’t one of my favorites, but as with all books, I walked away having learned something that will help me to grow as a writer.
Gaétan Soucy, The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches
Something I loved about this book:
It’s going to be difficult for me to choose something I “loved” about this book, because as I’ve said, I really didn’t like it. But I will note that the author’s commitment to the bizarre lens of the protagonist, raised outside of society in an abusive family and under grotesque circumstances, repulsed me as a reader but was an extremely effective aspect of the book. Soucy manages to consistently keep the reader from being able to ground herself as she slowly pieces together context clues in order to figure out exactly what is happening throughout the course of the story. Though the conditions under which the protagonist must live are disgusting and horrific, if we are to classify this as a piece of horror writing (which I don’t believe it intends to be, but the argument can absolutely be made for reading it as such), the consistency with which Soucy creates this distorted, uncanny understanding of the world succeeds throughout the entirety of the novella, and that’s not a simple feat.
Something that took me by surprise:
The protagonist is eventually revealed to be female, though she initially believes herself to be the oldest son in her family. She continues to refer to herself as her “father’s son” even as she becomes aware that she was not castrated as a little boy, as she was once led to believe. Oddly enough, while Soucy does not make it clear that she is female immediately, when I read the first pages of the book I’d simply assumed that she was. At first, this made me question myself: was it the title that had me under this assumption? But I think there was something about the voice of this character that told me she wasn’t male, at least in the sense that her younger brother is. Gender is always interesting because of its potential fluidity, and I’m fascinated by what markers exist of conventional and unconventional gender experiences and identities. The voice of the protagonist was something I was left thinking about long after I’d finished reading.
Something I noticed as a writer:
Whenever you decide to leave your readers scratching their heads for a prolonged period of time, I think you’re taking a big risk as a writer. I did have difficulty with the first few pages, as I’m sure I was meant to, and I started off not liking the book as a result. I don’t think it was this decision to leave readers struggling to get their bearings that ultimately turned me off to the novella as a whole; the content was certainly much more repulsive to me than the style of writing. However, I wonder about this risk that Soucy has taken. How long can you leave a reader at sea, struggling to figure out which way is up in the world that you present to them? What is the value in alienating a reader from the start? And is the project strong enough to recover those readers who will find such beginnings aggravating? This book has me thinking quite a lot about experimental and unusual decisions that writers face, and which moves I personally may or may not want to make with my own projects.
Since finishing this novella, I’ve moved on to some really fun YA fantasy, as well as some interesting memoirs. I’m looking forward to reviewing some of those in the weeks to come!
Until next time, I wish you a great start to your spring reading!