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Infrared by Nancy Huston

01/12/2011

I’ve just finished reading Infrared, translation of Infrarouge, by prize-winning, Calgarian-born (but France-residing) author Nancy Huston. In this story, photojournalist Rena InfraredGrenblatt has undertaken to guide her aging father and stepmother on a trip through Italy. These three do not  exactly make simpatico travelling companions, and Rena’s mood throughout the tedious journey is hardly improved by recurring memories of her painful  childhood or by sporadic phone calls from Aziz, her current lover, demanding that she return to Paris to cover the riots that have broken out in the suburbs.

As in her previous novel, Fault Lines, Huston does not shy away from disturbing themes and images in Infrared. Readers who are turned off by frank descriptions of bodily functions and sexual abuse may want to give this book a miss. The same applies to readers seeking a heartwarming read with a satisfying conclusion. While there are moments of humour and triumph throughout the story, they are few and short-lived.

Given these qualities (which are perhaps expressions more of a French than a Canadian world view?) one may wonder what incentive there is to read this novel . What is its point? What does it achieve? These questions were certainly running through my head while I read the book and after I finished it. Although the characters may not be the most engaging, and their relationships are certainly troubled, there is a feeling of honesty in the narrative that is undeniable. There is also a remarkable feeling of fullness in each short chapter and section of this leisurely-paced story. In only 264 pages, one travels far.

Ultimately, this book demonstrates that events from the past can influence an individual’s and a community’s behaviour, sometimes relentlessly so, for years to come. This may not be a shattering insight, but Huston’s portrayal of it certainly is, and in the end I found this to be a worthwhile (if disturbing) read.

Other reviews of Nancy Huston’s Infrared may be found in Quill &Quire, The Globe and Mail, and The National Post