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Marie-Claire Blais
Translated by David Lobdell

Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1991. 55pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-838-3 (cloth) $23.95, ISBN 0-88750-839-1 (paper) $11.95

Reviewed by Darleen Golke.

Volume 19 Number 5
1991 October

First published as L'ile (VLB Editeur, 1988) and staged in Montreal in 1988, Marie-Claire Blais' drama The Island is set primarily in a "dark, seedy bar near the seashore, in a tropical country" during the Christmas season. The atmosphere, however, is definitely not festive. The action focuses on a group of dysfunctional characters who have been "cursed with the kiss of death."

As in much of Blais' work, the male perspective prevails. With the exception of two elderly female regulars and the "tourists," male couples with a variety of life-threatening ills — depression, anger, cynicism, aging, addiction and disease — dominate the stage. Robbed of innocence and the capacity to love, each couple longs to find "peace at last." The suffering of the couples for whom "dignity has a habit of evaporating, vanishing," contrasts with the fears "for their children" of the tourists who believe the patrons "contaminate everything they touch."

The drama seethes with anger, much of it directed at society symbolized by the "tourists," who are indifferent to the suffering of and are contemptuous of the life-style of the bar patrons. Drugged-out Jerry, the black hustler, best exemplifies the degree of anger, insisting "all the pollution, all the foreign germs" were brought to the island paradise by "tourists" to destroy love and innocence. He exacts his own personal vengeance by hustling tourists so he can afford to help young beach boys society has corrupted and aban­doned.

Death seems to be the only release from the scourge of modern life, the only "peace at last." Only in tender moments between characters does Blais allow the audience fleeting glimpses of light filtering into the dull and grey atmosphere of the bar, reminders of the vital necessity of communion to help combat alienation and despair in today's world.

Darleen Golke, Fort Richmond Collegiate Library, Winnipeg, Man.
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