PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
The novel tells the story of the Peniel family in the desolate wetlands of Flanders, across which the German invaders pour three times -1870, 1914 and 1940 - in less than a century. It is hard to avoid thinking of A Hundred Years of Solitude but the comparison does no disservice to Germain's novel, so powerful is it. A brilliant book, excellently translated.
Sylvie Germain takes us on an epic expedition to inner sorrow, untold suffering, social darkness and grotesque fate. The journey leaves us crushed by a bulldozer of emotions, but convinced that The Book of Nights is a masterpiece. Germain is endowed with extraordinary narrative and descriptive abilities... She excels in portraits of emotional intensity and the gritty realism of raw emotions gives the novel its unique power. The Book of Nights is a literary feast.
This is a lyrical attempt to blend magic realism with la France profonde, the desolate peasant regions that remain mired in myth and folklore. Nothing is too grotesque for Germain's eldritch imagination: batrachian women, loving werewolves, necklaces of tears and corpses that metamorphose into dolls all combine to produce a visionary fusion of the pagan and the mystical.
...a successful blend of Marquez and Faulkner...
...a lithe, magical-realist account of how the primordial woods of northern Europe were overwhelmed by the twentieth century - both tremulous and shocking.
...a big, somewhat unusual novel.. which certainly possesses striking qualities - qualities not easy to visualise coming from the pen of an English-speaking author. Christine Donougher has given us a translation possessing remarkable consistency and smoothness of tone, while her pages reflect in English much of the ampleur, the ripeness, the overflowing lyricism, of the text by Sylvie Germain, with its scenes of elemental passions and unexpected atavisms.
The Book of Nights and Night of Amber cover a century in the life of a peasant family, the Penniels. Germain describes, with great compassion, the suffering of rural people subject to wartime invasion, and twists this together with fairy-tale components such as wolves and angels. Dead wives turn into dolls. The hero wears a necklace of shed tears. There is nothing twee or fanciful about all this, the tone is elegiac, sombre. The beautiful images are not decorative but express psychological truths.
Where the novel is particularly successful is in recreating in fiction the sense of infinite possibilities held in each single moment. Birth and death pursue one another riotously, as in life, without regard to human hopes or expectations. Acts of violence come out of the spring sunshine as if from nowhere, unconnected to a moment before.The mundane contents of everyday life are perilously vulnerable. Thus, Melanie Victor-Flandrin's first wife, is killed one morning by a fractious horse, her hands still dusty with flour from her bakings, while Margot's wedding day becomes an experience of such profound humiliation that it entombs her in perpetual preparation for a day that never comes. Most terrible of all is the war-induced madness of Theodore-Faustin Peniel, who, rather than let his five-year-old son be broken by war mutiliates the child's right hand. This act of insane protectiveness destroy's the child's love for him and, with it, his one remaining source of delight in life.
The Book of Nights is a triumph of bizarre and poetical imagination. It charts the impossible suffering of a French backwater peasant family, culminating in the Holocaust... Sylvie Germain marvels at the resilience of humanity in the face of successive tragedy. But her moving, magical debut questions God: the cares of the world are such, she cries, that either He can't exist, or He is not listening.
It is certainly both an unusual and a passionate book, and it is also deadly serious, but it treats of a deadly serious subject - the obscenity of war.
This is a book of extraordinary intensity, with just a few flashes of humour.It's also rich storytelling; Germain takes us in all kinds of unexpected directions,happily sparing us all that suffering-peasant-at-one-with-the -soil stuff while retaining as earthy sense of the magic of everyday things. Nature is mysterious and mystical, but never the raw material of outright fantasy in this startling debut novel from a woman we are likely to be hearing more of.
This is Germain's first novel.It is remarkable for its passionate, fantastic, bloody and over-populated pages. I look forward to its sequel Night of Amber.
The Book of Nights is a moving and powerful book, and the images it addresses strike a chord in any European reader.
Takes magic realism to the outer limit and then fearlessly hurls one against the other. The resulting collision is original and compelling.
Little by little, the novel's miraculous births and deaths project archetypal family situations as unflinchingly as the tales of the Brothers Grimm.
As well as attributing the success of the novel to the author and her ability to encapsulate 100 years of history in 278 pages, some credit must be given to the translator as nothing of the haunting and powerful story is lost. Sylvie Germain blends historical facts with magic and fantasy - a combination I found refreshing. This is a novel to savour.