Marie Sizun’s Her Father’s Daughter strikes me as easily one of the best reads of 2016, and more than that, it is a novel that you can’t help but make all your friends read immediately after you finish it. At only 150 pages in length, it seems almost criminal that such a short novel, one that could easily be read on a day’s worth of train journeys, could hold such an incredible story about family, loss and memory.
Part of Peirene Press’ 2016 Fairytale Series, Sizun’s novella brings an interesting new approach to the feel of domestic and family spaces. Following the central character of ‘the Child’, Sizun’s novel discusses the ways in which family dynamics are challenged by war, absence, truth and the secrets that adults keep from their children, whilst also tackling one of the most interesting spaces in literature – a child’s memory.
Sizun artfully replicates the fog of childhood memory, being sure not to coat over the gaps that time has gnawed away, but rather let those blank spaces in our minds become just as important in the figuring of the narrative as the clearest of the memories available to the Child. The Child’s recollection of the smell of perfume, the feel of her Mother’s clothes and the look of her Father’s “giraffe hands” (one of my favourite descriptions in the novel), are equally weighed with the gaps in the rembrance of specific events. Entire scenes are decimated by time, by sleep, by not being able to hear her parents arguing in the next room. To borrow from the book itself, Sizun skilfully weaves “hazy images, muted sounds, indistinct words” to form perhaps the best representation of childhood memory I have read in a long time. We are placed in the exact same space as the child, only with the foresight of our own experiences. Unlike the child, we can read the parents intentions more clearly, even if the child is more perceptive of their lies that we can be as readers.
The novel also makes an interesting comparison between the German occupation of Paris and the seeming occupation of the Child’s home by her Father, a man she has never met before. Through the Child’s eyes, we are given a peculiar and yet familiar glance at family life and the relationship between parents and their children, especially the relationship between war children and their absent fathers. I have never before read anything that tackles this relationship before, and it made for an interesting and cleverly written twist on the typical post-war reunion narrative. The ways in which the Child and her Father try to establish their relationship despite nearly four years without ever knowing each other is brilliantly navigated by Sizun, who is not afraid to demonise parents and children equally, whilst also making us sympathise for both sides. And yet, you not only watch the growth and destruction of relationships in this novel, you also bear witness to the birth and growth of the Child as an independent being, as a force of nature who has an incredible power amongst the adults who believe her to be little more than a spoiled child.
I am endlessly fascinated by the work of translators, especially translators of fiction, so I have to commend the work of Adriana Hunter in translating Her Father’s Daughter from the original French. Hunter masterfully translated this novella, keeping the poetic and incredibly airy French feel about it, something that is not always possible in translation. There is still a ring of French philosophical and poetic style that brings a lot to the English language version of Sizun’s work, adding to the authentic feel of the novel which makes it so appealing.
Peirene Press does incredible work in making English translations of European novellas more widely available and I am grateful that there are people so invested in making sure that bright little gems like Marie Sizun’s Her Father’s Daughter find their way into the hands of as many readers as possible.
Her Father’s Daughter is available in all good bookstores, or as part of the Peirene Press Fairytale Series 2016 book subscription. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.
Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of Her Father’s Daughter. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.
© Hayley New 2016