Canadian

Little Beast

An 11-year-old girl suddenly sprouts a beard in Julie Demers' modern fairy tale.

Julie Demers, translated by Rhonda Mullins

A little girl with a beard must find herself a home in this contemporary fairy tale.

It's 1944, and a little village in rural Quebec sits quietly beside an aging mountain and an angry river. The air tastes of kelp, and the wind keeps knocking over the cross. Beside that river an 11-year-old girl lives with her parents. Her mother is very sad, and her father has vanished because he can't bear to look at his own daughter. You see, this little girl has suddenly sprouted a full beard. And so her mother has shut the curtains and locked the girl inside to keep her safe from the townspeople, the Boots, who think there's something wrong with a bearded little girl. And when they come for her, she escapes into the wintery night. Translated from the French, Little Beast turns the modern fairy tale on its bearded head. (From Coach House)

Little Beast is on the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award shortlist for translation.

From the book

Rivière-à-Pierre, the Gaspé Peninsula, winter 1933. I remember it well because I was already the flicker of an idea in Mother's belly.

That was the year Mother couldn't stand without help: pregnancy had her by the jugular. The family had turned their backs on her because she and Father had gotten caught up in the ultimate sin. Which is to say, they had touched each other's difference.

So, winter 1933. I had spent the previous few months ruminating in Mother's abdomen. I was bursting with life, which my arms and legs expressed without mercy. To help me settle, Mother would rain down fists on the refuge in her belly.

Being a fetus is serious business. It's not like being an internal parasite; it's a constant effort. There is no respite. Particularly since fetuses are responsible for the person carrying them but can do nothing to help them. As a fetus, I tried to help Mother. I pampered her. I made her laugh. I distracted her from her dark, unwholesome, smutty thoughts. But I soon figured out that I wasn't quite up to the task. It doesn't pay to get carried away with extreme thoughts. For instance, you can't keep thinking about what it would look like if a fetus murdered an adult, although it is a serious topic that merits consideration.


From Little Beast by Julie Demers, translated by Rhonda Mullins ©2018. Published by Coach House Books.