Read Date: February 26, 2019
More of a character piece than a plot-driven novel, the story opens on mother Sylvie, who has just given birth to twins, one of whom, tragically, is stillborn. Sylvie and her war-hardened husband Gerald eventually adopt an orphan the same age as their living son and Sylvie gives him the name she gave her lost child: Arthur. This symbolic naming comes to be a catalyst of Arthur’s overwhelming feeling of displacement as he grows up and struggles to attain his own identity and to fill the multiple voids in his life.
Each of the main characters has suffered devastating loss: Sylvie of her child, Gerald of his antebellum composure, Arthur of his peace of mind and identity, etc. Gerald himself is the epitome of the lasting effect that grief and fear have on a person. He embodies a form of PTSD that isn’t largely addressed in WWII fiction; his trauma is less one of shell-shock and more one of lingering, unshakable fear of being Jewish in Europe, even after the war’s ended.
Part of my struggle with this book is that while characters were established very clearly, their only defining factors as individuals was their loss. There was little development over time, and each character had a certain monotony about him. This, paired with the disjunctive and self-interrupting narration made this a bit of a challenge for me. I respect the omnipresence of grief as the novel’s overarching theme, but I think at times it worked to the story’s detriment.
I was inspired by the potential A Small Dark Quiet held, but there were certain aspects of it that, for me, didn’t quite hit home. I have seen many readers who have been beautifully moved by this story, so if you think you might fit into that group, buy the novel here, and lend me your thoughts!
Happy reading 🙂