Thursday, July 26, 2012

More on Nancy Huston's Infrared

Okay, let's follow up last post's "First" with at least one more ordinal . . . .
For "second," I give you Nancy Huston's Infrared.
I'll say right away that this would not be the Nancy Huston I would first recommend if you haven't read her before. For that, I'd send you to The Mark of the Angel or Fault Lines. I felt more distance from this novel, and I'm not yet sure why that is, although it probably has much to do with protagonist Rena's own distanced personality. She prefers to see the world through the ultrasensitivity of infrared, and her strained travel to and through Florence with her father and his second wife is mediated, for readers, through her alter ego/secret friend, Subra.

It's through her conversations with that secret companion that we learn of the appalling betrayals her father both perpetrated on her and made her complicit in, betrayals that split the family beyond repair. And of the damages inflicted before those betrayals by her older brother. All of these are relayed through a voice that is nonetheless still coloured by lingering (and unwilling?) admiration, even adulation, for these male figures. Perhaps it's this elevation of her father that causes her to be so scornful of, and impatient with, her stepmother. The elevation and the betrayal, her stories to Subra suggest, have much to do with her subsequent relations with men. Many men.

Of men in general, Rena speaks in regard to her "most successful show [of photographs] to date. . . . Juxtaposed images of male behaviour the world over . . . . oh, such posturing! Such strutting and swaggering! Men, men, men! As anxious as they are arrogant, their arrogance being merely the flip side of their anxiety because they're so much more mortal than we are. It moves me to see the way these womb-less higher primates clench their jaws, march up and down, do everything in their power to attract attention and remind the world that they, too, exist, count, matter." (104)

I've already quoted Rena's thoughts on Paris and bilingualism here. The novel contains many other passages worth rereading, chewing over, and I'd happily spend more time with it were it not for my list of Books To Be Read. Some day, I think I need a Nancy Huston month or two, a chance to read all her works in a context that lets them reverberate. In the meantime, I would happily recommend Infrared if only for the opportunity to travel Florence from your armchair with erudite companions who will point you to literature and art to savour on your way. . .

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