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An Adoration

by Nancy Huston

Already a bestseller in France, Nancy Huston’s latest novel is both an affecting portrait of real and sympathetic characters and literary high art. Taking the form of the direct testimony of witnesses at a murder trial, the novel tells the story of a love affair between a barmaid in a French village and the local boy who’s become an international star.

Elke and her young lover Cosmo are the central characters, but the story ripples outward through their family and friends. We never see Cosmo or hear his own voice, except filtered through the testimony of others. In addition, though divided into the days of the trial, each witness speaks whenever he or she feels compelled to comment on or provide an alternate view of the story so far.

This free-flowing structure gives the novel the feel of a conversation, the kind of story we’re used to hearing first-hand from friends. It also collapses the flow of time in the narrative and allows Huston to show how patterns in life jump through generations.

Each character’s testimony is directly addressed to the trial’s judge, a role held by the reader. This effectively places the reader in the space normally occupied by the author, whose task is to mediate the material for the audience. The result is to narrow the personal distance between reader and characters on the one hand, and increase it between the reader and the book’s formal elements of plot and structure on the other. To have done this successfully is no mean accomplishment.

This is a complex novel firmly rooted in the discursive European tradition, whose ancestors are Sterne, Denis Diderot, Italo Calvino, and others. But it’s also a compelling and gritty story of contemporary France and those who live there , with room for villagers, pop stars, Algerian immigrants, parents, children – even trees, bridges, and knives. Despite the ambitious nature of the material, the novel is approachable and enjoyable.


Reviewer: Michel Basilières

Publisher: McArthur & Company


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 220 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 1-55278-373-1

Issue Date: 2003-9

Categories: Fiction: Novels