The Whole Night Through

By X. I. Selene

A review of The Whole Night Through by Christiane Frenette

Published on April 1, 2004

The Whole Night Through
Christiane Frenette

Cormorant Books

As literary genre, the Bookish Woman in the Woods poses a unique set of challenges. Among its many perils is the contamination of style by content, or the conflation of the imaginary landscape and the depiction of that landscape. The routine of wilderness living may yield a flat or grating narrative. In poorly worked cases of this genre, time has a tendency either to plop down in fat, unmarked dollops or else to repeat itself insupportably. Even in classics such as Sinclair Ross’s As for Me and My House, the imagined universe becomes at certain moments untenable, since recurring events are described almost identically each time. Because the lexical field does not expand with the modulating experiences of the characters, literature reveals itself as constructed, contrived.

The Whole Night Through suffers from this phenomenon. Frenette does not develop her characters, but accords each an unchanging scenery of words. Gabrielle is associated with her “pain” and “anxiety,” her brother Paul with “anger,” “rage” and “silence.” Victor, the town baker, is “docile.” Jeanne, a young insomniac translator, enters this world following a chance meeting with an old acquaintance, Gabrielle. This quartet of characters may behave in believable ways, but they remain patently fictive, manipulated by strings of adjectives.

Equally problematic is the secondary timeline, largely devoted to detailing a moose’s last hours. The interest in cutting up the main action with fast-forwards to the death throes of the sad and majestic moose would be to add weight to the story. However, this cannot be achieved with a ready-made symbol and little linguistic variation. While The Whole Night Through explores a spare, pure style, the result is a generic text that takes few chances.

If The Whole Night Through succeeds in any respect, it is certainly in its clarity and readability. mRb

X. I. Selene is a Montreal writer.



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