Monday January 25, 2016

If you liked Go Set a Watchman, you'll love...

Columnist Victor Dwyer says Marie-Claire Blais' 1959 novel Mad Shadows is thematically linked to Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, but with a more sophisticated message.

Columnist Victor Dwyer says Marie-Claire Blais' 1959 novel Mad Shadows is thematically linked to Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, but with a more sophisticated message. (Harper / New Canadian Library)

Listen 11:22

The Next Chapter columnist and Globe and Mail editor Victor Dwyer says if you liked (or at least wanted to like) Harper Lee's controversial Go Set a Watchman, you should check out Mad Shadows, a 1959 classic from Quebec author Marie-Claire Blais.

WHY MAD SHADOWS IS A BETTER, WEIRDER WATCHMAN

Marie-Claire Blais was born in 1939 and Mad Shadows was written in 1959, just two years after Go Set a Watchman. She was only 20 at the time. It's a book I read in high school, and it always stayed with me. Even then I thought it was weird that we were reading this surreal, kind of gothic, very violent book. It's set in the fifties in rural Quebec, and it's the story of this imperious and vain woman named Louise. She's a widow and a landowner, and she keeps what she calls her "monstrous virgin daughter," this ugly and swarthy girl named Isabelle Marie, effectively in servitude. Her brother, meanwhile, is stunningly beautiful but empty-headed, and sits around doing nothing all day. Eventually Isabelle's fury is unleashed, and she does all kinds of horrible things. It's an incredibly grotesque, barbaric, over-the-top book. If Go Set a Watchman is Peyton Place, Mad Shadows is Twin Peaks. It's totally weird and crazy. 

HOW THE TWO BOOKS STAND THE TEST OF TIME

Go Set a Watchman very much does feel dated. It's kind of halting and pedantic, and feels like it's dealing with a place that's long gone. I don't find that Mad Shadows feels dated. It feels kind of ahead of its time, because it is so David Lynchian. It pulls no punches, but it also feels like a sophisticated read on the politics of English and French Canada at the time. So I did find it to be the much more satisfying read.

Victor Dwyer's comments have been edited and condensed.

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