by Marie-Claire Blais, Nigel Spencer,
120 pages,
ISBN: 0921870604

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Brief Reviews - Drama
by Kathy Mezei

Marie-Claire Blais' Wintersleep (Ronsdale Press,143 pages, $14.95 paper) is a handsome book that presents the five short plays originally published in 1984 in French as Sommeil d'hiver by the feminist press, Les éditions de la pleine lune. Four of the plays were broadcast on Radio Canada in the `70s, and the title play, "Wintersleep", was performed as a staged reading in Paris. In an excellent introduction, Nigel Spencer, the translator, contextualizes these lyrical, elliptical works, and describes his mode of translation as "partly one of adaptation or the search for shading and equivalences, not only in meaning but also in visceral effect." Given pleine lune's mission to provide an instrument for "la parole des femmes" and to "nommer le non-dit/de notre identité singulière et collective", it is not surprising that all five plays feature female voices asserting themselves in painful dialogue with male partners. Oscillating between intimate personal detail and philosophical abstraction, between tentativeness and aggression, each play probes a different sensibility, a different tension.

In "A Couple", Françoise, a species of flower-child infected by wanderlust and free love, abandons her lover and baby in what seems a selfish bid for personal liberty. In "Ghost of a Voice", a famous composer gradually realizes how his wife Anna (she is named, he is not) sacrificed her voice, her life to his genius. The dialogue is rendered even more poignant by the accompanying musicality of Blais' long poetic lines. Exiled in a nameless country eerily resembling present-day Serbia, a husband and wife debate the nature of freedom in "Exile". The dead man, shrouded in white and seeped in images of coldness, in the aptly titled "Wintersleep" (which resembles a mediaeval morality play and, unlike the others, includes stage directions and scenes), barely wakes to confront his weaknesses in relation to men and especially to the women in his past. Perhaps the most evocative of all is the study in contrasts, "Fever"-a beautifully orchestrated dialogue between a wife and husband in which she unveils his hypocrisy and her complicity against the exoticized backdrop of Morocco.

Reading these enigmatic musings set amidst highly visualized backgrounds or sets, one participates in the equivocal, tenuous relations between men and women, speech and silence, oppression and freedom. As Blais, through the voice of her translator, so eloquently puts it: "But here I am, and he listens. It is late. At least, he seems to listen." 

Kathy Mezei


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