Publisher: World Editions
Published: February 13th, 2020
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Coming-of-Age Fiction
Trigger Warning: Domestic Abuse.
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this fantastic debut novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things tours for the invitation to take part, and World Editions for the gifted copy of the book.
Translated from the French by Roland Glasser.
At home there are four bedrooms: one for her, one for her little brother Sam, one for her parents, and one for the carcasses. Her father is a big-game hunter, a powerful predator, and her mother is submissive to her violent husband’s demands. The young narrator spends her day s with Sam playing in the shells of cars dumped for scrap and listening out for the melody of the ice-cream truck, until a brutal accident shatters their world.
The uncompromising pen of Adeline Dieudonné wields flashes of brilliance as she brings her characters to life in a world that is both dark and sensual. This breathtaking debut is a sharp and funny coming-of-age tale in which fantasy and reality collide.
“There are things you can’t accept. Otherwise you die.”
A powerful and affecting coming-of-age journey with elements of fantasy, Real Life explores the dark truths of growing up within a home laden with violence and fear, and the results of a life lived without love or guidance from those who should protect you.
Our unnamed protagonist is a jaded young girl who lives at home with her parents and younger brother Sam, who she adores. Their home is a malignant place, filled with the constant threat of her father’s wrath and their attempts to avoid it. She is indifferent towards her mother, who she refers to as an amoeba, seeing her as weak for living this life and not protecting or comforting her children. It is just her and Sam against the world. So when a tragic accident rips them apart and her brother becomes unreachable, a mute ‘robot’ who then slowly morphs into a sadistic young boy who seems to feel nothing unless he’s terrorising others, she feels like she’s lost everything and becomes obsessed with finding a way to go back in time and save her brother from this dark fate.
“Nothing made sense anymore. My reality had dissolved until a vertiginous void from which I saw no way out. A void so palpable I could feel its walls, its floor, and its ceiling tightening around me.”
The story takes place over five years, beginning the summer of the accident. During this time the protagonist goes from a girl of ten to a young woman of fifteen who has seen more than anyone her age should ever have to see. She’s scarred by the toxic life she’s been forced to live and the horror she witnessed that first summer, and is fighting to find a way back to when she felt happy and she and Sam were everything to each other. Along the way she discovered a talent and passion for science and is trying to both understand and hide the changes brought to her body through puberty. She slowly sees a shift in her father as he notices these changes and begins to see her as a target for his rage just like her mother, while the changes in Sam bring the pair closer together and our protagonist learns to fear her brother too. From the start of the book there are distressing scenes of domestic abuse. The fear and terror jumps from the page as they talk about having to tip-toe around him and feeling like they can only breathe when he’s not there.
There is a mythical element to the story that is provided by how the protagonist sees the change in Sam; she believes that an evil being has taken up residence inside him and that his sadistic behaviour is at its bidding. This adds a mythical element to the story as well as highlighting how young she is at the time the story starts. She truly believes she will one day succeed in travelling back in time to save her brother and it becomes her only focus. Despite my rational mind knowing this isn’t possible, I was willing her to succeed and have some much- deserved joy and happiness in her life.
Real Life is a superb and wonderfully written debut. The punchy, offbeat prose is compelling, insightful and raw. It makes it impossible to pull yourself away. I needed to know where this was heading, if she would save Sam and what would become of her. Unflinching and uncompromising, Harrowing and heart-rending, but with an indomitable hope running through its veins, this is a story that will stay with me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Adeline Dieudonné was born in 1982 and lives in Brussels. A playwright and short-story writer, her first novella, Amarula, was awarded the Grand Prix of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Two further booklets were published by Editions Lamiory in 2017: Saule dans le noir and Bonobo Moussaka. Real Life was recently awarded the prestigious Prix du Roman FNAC, the Prix Rossel, the Prix Renaudot des Lycéens, and the Prix Filigrane, a French prize for a work of high literary quality with wide appeal. Dieudonné also performs as a stand-up comedian.
Ronald Glasser is an award-winning translator of French literature, based in London.
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