Malicroix by Henri Bosco
Trade paperback format. Translated by Joyce Zonana.
Henri Bosco, like his contemporary Jean Giono, is one of the regional masters of modern French literature, a writer who dwells above all on the grandeur, beauty, and ferocious unpredictability of the natural world. Malicroix, set in the early nineteenth century, is widely considered to be Bosco’s greatest book. Here he invests a classic coming-of-age story with a wild, mythic glamour.
A nice young man, of stolidly unimaginative, good bourgeois stock, is surprised to inherit a house on an island in the Rhône, in the famously desolate and untamed region of the Camargue. The terms of his great-uncle’s will are even more surprising: the young man must take up solitary residence in the house for a full three months before he will be permitted to take possession of it.
With only a taciturn shepherd and his dog for occasional company, he finds himself surrounded by the huge and turbulent river (always threatening to flood the island and surrounding countryside) and the wind, battering at his all-too-fragile house, shrieking from on high. And there is another condition of the will, a challenging task he must perform, even as others scheme to make his house their own.
Only under threat can the young man come to terms with both his strange inheritance and himself.
[A] charming back-to-nature fantasia . . . even the strange blood feud bequeathed from Malicroix against a neighboring clan has a timeless, romantic quality.
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
Readers partial to philosophical tangents will find much to enjoy here. . . . [A] work of tremendous lyricism.
[A] gothic historical par excellence . . . Bosco’s atmospheric investigation of the relationship between environment and mentality successfully merges haunted-house tropes and high modernism.
In this vast prose-poem . . . the author takes the time to show the harrowing of space in which the house is to live like an anguished heart. . . . The real drama of Malicroix is an ordeal by solitude.
—Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
[Malicroix is] about solitude, and the anticipation of salvation . . . Bosco’s book is stranger than I’d anticipated. ‘Islands favor the moon,’ someone warns him as his residence on the island is about to begin. ‘Dreams form over water, peopling it with unreal, captivating shapes; and if you dream too much, Sir, you will never leave this isle of magic.’ I’ve read elsewhere that we’re all having strange dreams at this moment; if for some reason you aren’t, Malicroix approximates that experience.” —Rumaan Alam, The New Republic’s Critical Mass: Text Message