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In Search Of Life.
by Merna Summers

WELL, WE ALL know what happened on the first six. God created, heaven and earth. Then on the seventh, he rested. In her new novel, On the Eighth Day, Antonine Maillet takes him to task for rushing things, for botching the job. "This Creation of yours is too small," she scolds. 'Too short, too thin, too ? unfinished."

"You'd think he could have asked someone for help," she ?grumbles. "He could have asked the world's dreamers to dream; asked the inventors to invent something; or asked me to add to his seven days an eighth day." 'Me idea of this eighth day, "when everything is dared and anything is possible," scampers through this enchanting novel, which uses fairy?tale ingredients to explore the question of what a fully lived life should be. "We don't need to give in to the inevitable," one of the characters says, in what may be the novel's rallying cry.

Maillet's hero is a blithe little fellow called Big?as?a?Fist, whose mother fashioned him out of bread dough. He is brave and life?loving, but not exactly prudent. Given three magic wishes, he turns down health, wisdom, and long life in favour of the' ability to make people fart by sneezing, a talent that turns out to be so handy that by the book's end readers may wish they had it too. Big as a Fist and his brother, a giant carved from an oak tree, set out on a journey in search of Life. They soon pick up two companions, an ancient mariner who has been frozen ?and whom they resurrect, and a child who can make time run backwards.

There is also a pigeon called Marco Polo, who flies through the book with a message tied to his leg, a message that never does get read.

These are the "pro?life" forces. Wherever they turn, they are met by death's emissaries: the hangman, the Grim Reaper ?here, a woman ? and the driver of death's chariot.

There is a journey into the forest, a land where people walk upside down ? this is the land in the book that most resembles our own ? and meetings with a princess, a king, a fairy, and a serpent. As the author says in another context, "Everything is both itself and something else everything else."

Maillet makes no secret of which human qualities she admires most: loyalty, a merry heart, spunk, and a refusal to be cautious. It must be admitted that some pretty tiresome books have been written out of ingredients like the ones combined here ?Life and Death and reconstituted mariners but this book is pure delight. Maillet doesn't lean on her allusions as lesser writers are wont to do, but treats them as handy pebbles to sehd skipping across the surface of her narrative. The book brims over with good nature, energy, and assurance. What assurance! A joy in language and the games it can play has somehow made it from one language to another. Wayne Grady, the book's translator, has won prizes for his work, and may again for this.

As for Antonine Maillet, she is like a force of nature. I began to smile on page one and kept right on through page 275; my only regret was that I was alone while I was reading. I can imagine reading On the Eighth Day slowly, a little bit every night, reading it around a campfire, reading it aloud, sharing it with a circle of friends, who might include a few broad?minded children, taking time to savour its good humour, its energy, its neverfailing inventiveness, for as *long as the story lasted ?and then, perhaps, starting right back at the beginning again.


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