Andrée A. Michaud’s Boundary (2014; 2017)

Boundaries and borders, between countries and between stages of life: Andrée A. Michaud’s Boundary darts across the dotted lines, back and forth, sedately in one moment and chillingly the next.

Because the story revolves around the murders of two young women in the small community of Bondrée, questions of femininity and vulnerability arise early in the novel.

“But I revered those two girls with silky hair who smelled of peach and lily of the valley, who read photo novels and danced rock ‘n’ roll like the groupies who waggled their hips on TV to songs translated by the Excentriques or César et les Romains. To me they represented a quintessence of femininity to which I hardly dared aspire, a magazine femininity reserved for girls who had long legs and lacquered nails.”

That’s one way of looking at Sissy and Zaza.

But here’s another.

“That kind of girl, her mother repeated, knowing perfectly well that Sissy and Zaza were the same, that they took themselves for twins, blood sisters, babies found in the same damn basket. That kind of girl, you know?”

Regardless of which kind of girl Sissy and Zaza actually are, they are no longer.

In one moment, Bondrée is a place of beauty and stillness.

“Every tree became an entire forest, every stone a monolith as big as the Rock of Gibraltar, which my father had shown me in one of those magazines that makes you realize you don’t know anything and every stretch of beach was a desert full of rattlesnakes, sand hoppers, poisonous lizards, and other creatures right out of the scary stories in our after-supper books. Bondrée was a world unto itself, the mirror of all possible universes.”

In another it is fraught and tentative.

“After nightfall, however, the ambience changed. There was no more applause, just gusts of wind at the very heart of the falls. In the black coulee opened up by the river there drifted eddies of foam, the only bright zones on moonless nights, looking like drool from the maw of a prehistoric animal. Among the trees lining the shore, you no longer wanted to run. You held your breath to pick out the forest’s tangle of sounds, lost to the wind, captive to clamour.”

The threat is real and the community is fractured.

“Michaud saw this dark energy as an electric current connecting the men, fathers, brothers, fearful in the knowledge that there was a monster on the loose who could act again.”

The sense of menace is cool and calculating; there is an air of tension strung throughout, but this is not a pageturner. Nor, however, is it a quiet psychological exploration, for this is a bloody story.

“Along with the trap, the knife pointed to Boundary’s murderer being a hunter, someone whose power resided in capture, and then in the spoils he stripped from his prey…”

And its resolution rests in the idea of weighing and measuring, examining a situation from multiple perspectives, of recognizing that the concerns of a small community touched by violence are not far removed from the threat of domination and destruction in the wider world.

“With Cusack, he was locked into a cop’s way of seeing things, whereas Larue came from another world, that of books, which reflect reality with a different sort of acuity, taking a small sample of the real and weighing it against a whole that existed only in the sum of its parts. That was what he ought to be doing too, looking on Boundary as the microcosm of a humanity that never changed.”

Translated by Donald Winkler, Andrée A. Michaud’s Boundary is dark and disturbing, the sort of story that satisfies on a frosty winter afternoon and a simmery summer evening. That makes you shiver and sweat, relishing in the pursuit of something-that-can-never-be-resolved.

Giller-a-bility

Boundary‘s superpower is its precision.

Past Giller juries have recognized atmospheric and dark stories (like Alix Ohlin’s Inside and Alexi Zentner’s Touch in 2012 and 2011 respectively) in the past. This year’s jury appreciates haunting and evocative narratives, and they have chosen to advance other novels with elements of darkness to this year’s shortlist (mmmm, actually all of the books on the shortlist have at least a hint of darkness), but Boundary didn’t cross the longlist line.

2017-11-17T17:23:26+00:00

8 Comments

  1. Naomi November 21, 2017 at 10:46 am - Reply

    There were times that I forgot all about solving it, but other times when I was trying to guess who did it. I don’t read many mysteries, so that was part of the fun for me. I was happy that she didn’t go in a supernatural direction.

    • Buried In Print November 22, 2017 at 12:29 pm - Reply

      I never even thought of that, but I agree that it wouldn’t have felt right. It feels very much a story of “this world”, with all its concrete realities (however changeable some of those may be). I’m definitely interested to see what else she has written (and hanging my head not to have heard of her work before).

  2. Penny November 20, 2017 at 11:10 am - Reply

    “the sort of story that satisfies on a frosty winter afternoon…” Perfect! Will need to get to this one soon! I had it ready to go when it was longlisted, but other books got in the way. Need more days in the week to get all this reading packed in!
    After reading, did you think it should have made the shortlist?

    • Buried In Print November 22, 2017 at 12:30 pm - Reply

      I think it could have made another jury’s shortlist – I don’t feel like it was lacking anything per se, and the craft is solid and honed – but these award lists are a subjective business. I think this jury was looking for more layering and complexity in structure and theme, but with another set of readers it might well have advanced!

  3. The Reading Life November 19, 2017 at 3:33 am - Reply

    This sounds highly atmospheric. Thanks for letting us know about a writer new to me

    • Buried In Print November 20, 2017 at 9:26 am - Reply

      If you ever decide to dip your toe into Quebecois literature, this one might interest you!

  4. Naomi November 18, 2017 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    Wasn’t this book just full of great passages? And I liked getting the perspective from the police as well as the members of the community.
    Were you surprised at the end, or had you guessed it?

    • Buried In Print November 20, 2017 at 9:20 am - Reply

      At a certain point, I actually wondered if she was going to tell us. It seemed like the story was so much about atmosphere and distrust and uncertainty and divisiveness that I thought maybe we wouldn’t be given any resolution at all. So. From that perspective? I was surprised. I wasn’t even really all that engaged in solving it though – just was following along. How about you?

Say something bookish, or just say 'hey'