Book Review – Hemlock: Old Women in Bloom by Hélène Cixous translated by Beverley Bie Brahic

Rating: 1 out of 5.
Hemlock: Old Women in BloomHemlock: Old Women in Bloom by Hélène Cixous
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I feel that I am missing something. This book has received high praise, yet I struggled to read it. In fact, after several attempts to get on with it, I abandoned it as unreadable.

Is the greatness of the prose lost in translation? Apparently not. Many reviewers tell us that the translation is wonderful.

Perhaps it is just me.

However, I challenge anyone to turn to any page in the book and read a random paragraph without some difficulty. There are sentences which run to almost a page in length and seem to ramble aimlessly towards no definitive conclusion.

Here’s an example [copied exactly as it is from the book] . . .

“There’s no future” my mother thinks, she says this behind my back, she thinks I don’t see her thinking this colorless, shapeless thing, that shakes out its rag full of terror in slow motion in a scene that has vanished without leaving an address, she thinks I don’t see her scring herself behind my back, furthermore the words of the sentence get ahead of her thoughts, they turn up, all of a sudden they pour in, they clog, this is what frightens her, this horrid, peremptory sentence, most unlike her, that turns up in the corner of her room at ten o’clock in the morning as she tries to wake, to get up, applying herself to the task of putting herself back together as once ninety years ago she would have trudged to school after a nightmare, she skirts the gluey verge of the road where once she missed the bus that has been here for hours already, still moving uncertainly, faceless and toothless, toward the little old lady whom she is going to shower and comb and put on for the day, she’s preparing to climb aboard this day dated June 15, 2007 she can do it, June 15, she girds her loins with the waffle weave towel, everything needs to be done as usual, first empty the chamber pot, therefore sit down and think, “there’s no future” says the sentence, what kind of stupid thing is that?” says my mother, she hasn’t put her teeth in yet so the sentences hiss and mumble, but in her head this can be heard loud and clear, for the third time, the phrase rings out with the help of a stubborn little force, my mother ssslips into her ssslippers and brushes off frttffrt the nasty spluttering sentence, she doesn’t see it, from the glass cabinet where mama’s little people pell-mell, the riddle-altar she alone has keys to, indecipherable save by her immutable perennial self, and over which Omi’s photo reigns.

Did you make it to the end of the sentence? Isn’t it awful?

Or perhaps you think that it is literary genius and that I really am missing the point.

So, Hemlock becomes only my second DNF (did not finish) book. The other was yet another proclaimed literary masterpiece: The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.

View all my reviews

About Lance Greenfield

Blog: email: I published my debut novel in December 2014: Eleven Miles. My second novel went live in February 2016: Knitting Can Walk!
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