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Jasmin, Claude.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, c1985. 175pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-5724 (cloth) $27.95, 0-88750-573-2 (paper) $14.95.

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Frank Loreto

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

If Don Quixote had assisted in the creation of Frankenstein's monster, the product might have been similar to Mario, the mentally handicapped character in Claude Jasmin's novel, Mario. The novel is told by Clovis Jhie, Mario's older brother, who spends his summers fabricating elaborate mythical battles and filling Mario's head with tales of glory. With Mario as his second-in-command, Clovis daily re-enacts historical battles based on information gathered from a cereal company encyclopedia set that he receives by mail. Mario believes this summer that he, Clovis, and some neighbourhood friends are Moslems fighting to take Europe from the Christians. All the battles are in preparation for the final attack at Poitiers. Clovis must stall his troops as he has yet to receive volume seven of the encyclopedia in which that battle is described.

Mario is a bittersweet blend of romance and reality, as the descriptions of Clevis's battles are lush and detailed. Looming over these games, however, is the inevitable fact that Clovis is getting older and according to his parents such activity should be seen as foolishness. Next summer he must find a job. Intuitively Mario realizes this and is all the more insistent that they conquer Christian Europe. Everything changes once Clovis notices that Ramona, formerly one of his soldiers, is a pretty and interested girl. The games lose their lustre, Mario becomes a fifth wheel and is forced to wage war alone. It is at this point that the humour begins to leave and is replaced by a serious theme of responsibility. Clovis makes impossible promises to Mario and then despises himself when he is unable to deliver, especially when the family decides to institutionalize Mario. Despite his handicap, Mario knows that Clovis will one day leave him and sees Clovis's child-like qualities being replaced by something older and exclusive. Still he wants that last seige at Poitiers completed. The fact that the Christians were victorious in that battle, as the boys eventually learn, ironically points the way to childhood's end for both boys.

Mario is well written and a pleasure to read. The characters are memorable and the situations, though imaginative, are believable . The novel would fit in well with a senior class and could serve as support material in a Canadian literature class. It is also a good read for those who, like Clovis, have traded innocence for experience.

Frank Loreto, Rainy River H.S., Rainy River, Ont.
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