________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 13 . . . . February 22, 2008


Mercury Under My Tongue.

Sylvain Trudel. Translated by Sheila Fischman.
Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull, (Distributed in Canada by Publishers Group Canada), 2008.
159 pp., pbk., $16.95.
ISBN 978-1-933368-96-2.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Galley.


Slowly I close my eyes that are boiling with fever and I don't really know what it is that I see, but it's better than when I open them and that says it all. There are undulating forms that resemble shape shifters; phosphorescent mysteries that want to teach me ageless secrets or some strange philosophy; and there are times when it's so beautiful that I think I'm already dead. Sometimes faces that I've loved come to repopulate my solitude. It's as though they've burst out of an Aladdin's lamp, smiling and gracious like good genies, but when I want to hold them close to me, I wrap my arms around nothingness.

It's wild, but I never would have thought that I'd arrive so soon at the world's farthest extremity, where the slightest glance from me would scratch this fragile universe of crystal that no longer understands me. To some extent I'm already elsewhere, spat out far away from the simple things that make up everyday life, with one foot in the molasses of the night. Armchair psychologists or front-porch philosophers who watch too much TV talk about stages or phases. Which come before the end, if I understand what I mean.


Mercury Under my Tongue is a microscopic examination of the thoughts of Frederic, a 17-year-old boy dying of bone cancer. Trapped inside a traitorous body within his hospital room, or 'bachelor pad' as he calls it, Frederic tries to come to terms with his impending death. He is alternately resigned, hopeful, melancholy, brash, vulnerable, bitter, philosophical, and angry.

     But above all else, he is honest, and because of that, the reader feels almost like a voyeur. Novels generally provide glimpses into characters' thoughts and feelings, but Mercury Under my Tongue is devoted almost solely to Frederic's thoughts. Even his interactions with family, physicians, and other patients are related as memories accompanied by Frederic's interpretation of them.

     The language in this book is beautiful, the concepts are provocative, and the images are fresh and crisp. The problem this reader had with the novel is the absence of action and dialogue. No doubt this was an intentional ploy on the author's part. Trudel was probably trying to trap readers inside Frederic's mind so that they might better understand his turmoil. But there aren't even any chapter breaks. Consequently, the story is an internal monologue lasting 159 pages. Though Frederic describes himself as unintelligent, he is a poet and a complex thinker, giving readers endless things to ponder—but no place to pause the story to do so! Clever and insightful as the story is, the style is frustrating.

     Certainly there is an audience for this book. I'm just not sure it will hold many teen readers.

Recommended with reservations.

Kristin Butcher lives in Campbell River, BC, and writes for children and young adults.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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