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A Novel by Marie Hélène Poitras
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Suddenly the Minotaur
Why did Guatemalan immigrant Mino Torrès try to rape Quebec student Ariane? What was the failed attempt’s aftermath?
In this terse, prize-winning novel, Marie Hélène Poitras, with an imagination tutored by the Minotaur myth, offers a controversial tale about a thug who exults in his ferocious urges and is as incorrigible as a primal force. Torrès (the bull) enthusiastically and unapologetically seeks hectic transcendence through rape and recurring fits of epilepsy. Ariane (Ariadne), straying into his twisted, downtown Montreal labyrinth, suffers the consequences of his random sexual predation, though significantly, her refusal to be a terrorized and passive victim haunts him.
Ariane’s deliverance from his maze, her conquest of persistent fears, is prolonged past her assailant’s capture. Once more she must learn to live and love–in particular, men–to pick up and follow the thread of human trust, to feel sure again about her flat’s dark places and her walk-in cupboard’s contents. On the site of the Berlin Wall, in a reunified Germany that has survived its own and other regimes’ violent perversions, she permits herself to be gently hoisted up and passed from palm-to-palm over a vast and joy-filled crowd.
Suddenly the Minotaur by Marie Hélène Poitras is composed of two first-person narratives. In the first, a young serial rapist called MinoTorres thinks back over his crimes in Guatemala and Montreal and fantasizes about his victims as he serves time in a Penetanguishene prison in Ontario. In the second, Ariane, a woman whom he knifed in an attempted rape, recounts the event, and her struggle to recover from the trauma through a journey to Dachau. In her short Translator's Note, Patricia Claxton identifies the particular difficulties posed by the translation. Not surprisingly, as she notes, finding the right voice and register for the rapist is problematic. She is kind enough not to point out that the original itself is in delicate waters on this point, offering a
text in fluent - even at times poetic - French, with a sprinkling of Spanish, for a relatively uneducated character for whom French is a
recently acquired second language. Claxton uses her considerable experience as a literary translator to navigate the challenge. The shifts between the more literary and the more brutal elements are not always perfectly seamless (nor are they in the original), but through her choices of concrete and idiomatic formulations Claxton succeeds
remarkably in translating forcefully the unrepentant brutality of the rapist.
Ariane's alternation between the narration of the attempted rape and her trip to Dachau is an uneasy juxtaposition, but Claxton's translation is accurate and economical, audacious in its directness. When Ariane looks out over the red-light district of Hamburg from a tower, the French is to the point: ‘Hambourg s'étendait devant moi,
les jambes ouvertes. D'une tour, j'apercevais les néons des sex-shops, éveillés les uns après les autres par le déclin du soleil ... Six églises certaines aux clochers tronqués par les bombardements de la guerre, se dressaient comme autant de sexes en éveil ... Depuis le 4 novembre précédent, je pressentais des signes de trop-plein de désir partout où je posais les yeux.’
Claxton makes a number of small lexical adjustments to keep her text English, re-establishes the appropriate verb tenses
and aspect, but makes no compromises in the narrator's underlying emotion. There are no attempts here to soften unduly or dissimulate any hard angles. The words are straight to the point: ‘Hamburg lay before
me, legs spread. From a tower, I saw the sex-shop neon signs light up one by one as the sun went down ... Six church steeples, some truncated by wartime bombings, rose like so many phalluses at the ready ... Since
the preceding November 4, I had been getting early-warning signs of desire overflow everywhere I looked.’
– University of Toronto Quarterly, Winter 2008
Author Marie Hélène Poitras
Marie Hélène Poitras is a leader among the new generation of Quebec writers. She won the prestigious Prix Anne-Hébert in 2003 for her first novel, Soudain le Minotaure, the original French version of this book. In 2006 she published a collection of short stories, La Mort de Mignonne et autres histoires. She is a journalist in the cultural field in general and music editor for the Montreal entertainment weekly Voir. She lives in Montrea
Suddenly the Minotaur,Marie Hélene Poitras, 162 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, Novel, December, 2006
ISBN: 978-1-897190-16-6 (paper) . . . $18.95 | US$16.95
ISBN: 978-1-897190-17-3 (Bound*) . . . $32.95 | US$29.95
* This book is “perfect bound” with an add-on
hard cover, no dust jacket.
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