Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kick the Animal Out, by Véronique Ovaldé

Véronique Ovaldé is the author of the novels The Sleep of Fishes, All Things Shimmering, and Generally I Like Men. Kick the Animal Out, originally published as Déloger l’animal by Actes Sud in France and Leméac in Canada, is her fourth novel. She lives and works in Paris.

If you’re looking for a story with a happy ending, you won’t find it in Veronique Ovalde’s tale,
Kick the Animal Out – but not every story can end like a fairy tale.

This surprisingly sad story begins with a young girl, Rose, apparently suffering from special needs (never specifically described) and therefore attending a school referred to as the Institute. She lives with her strangely distant and beautiful mother and a man Rose knows as Mr. Loyal, whom Rose believes is not her biological father. The relationship between her parents lacks passion and results in a desperate attempt by young Rose to garner the attention and love she needs: the little girl dons a cape and “flies” from a third-story window.

While Rose is recuperating in the hospital, her mother, who has been increasingly withdrawn and quiet in the days leading up to the incident, fails to return home after work one day. She has inexplicably disappeared. In an effort to stave off the resulting trauma, fifteen-year-old Rose formulates imaginative scenarios that might explain her mother’s disappearance and Mr. Loyal’s passive acceptance of the situation.

The sheer sadness of the little girl’s plight will break your heart. Ovalde has developed a character whose fragility is overcome by her loving spirit. Rose’s determination to ferret out the truth from resistant adults makes her a true heroine. As you walk through the fear with Rose, you will wish to hold her in your arms and comfort her.

While the basic plot of the story is solid, the book is difficult to follow at times. This may be the result of a conscious effort on Ovalde’s part to convey the thoughts of a little girl with special needs. Not a huge problem for the reader, but I found myself reading some passages more than once for clarity. Don’t let that deter you from reading the book, however.

This is Veronique Ovalde’s fourth novel; I highly recommend it. You will be captivated from the beginning to the end.

"A first-person novel that pivots on the vanishing of a disturbed teenage girl's flaky mum sounds like a recipe for gritty realism. Yet this sensuous and sinister French récit delivers a more artful punch." By Boyd Tonkin, The Independant.

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