The fine folks over at Literary Hub are keen on list-making, and having enjoyed things they have recommended before (hello, The Lover!) I was pleased as punch to track down this loose “trilogy” from Marie Redonnet after spotting it in a list of short reads.
I, and Redonnet (and translator Jordan Stump) use the term trilogy loosely; while there are no reoccurring locations, characters, or plot points, this little three-book collection is bound tightly together by young girls who are pushed- without knowing anything different – into the adult world of both wonder and terror. Of course, the wonder and terror is unfortunately mired in these girls sleeping with grown men, so if that is a trigger for you (and understandably so!) you’d be best to avoid Rose Mellie Rose and Forever Valley
Our unnamed narrator inherits a crumbling hotel on the edge of a swamp from her grandmother. In inheriting the hotel, she also inherits the care of her troublesome sisters. Both are older, both grew up away from the hotel, and both are useless in regard to the care and keeping of the hotel, guests, and themselves. You can taste the swamp air, feel the spongey rotten wood, and hear the buzz of mosquitos on every page. Our narrator hopes that railway construction in and around the swamp will save the hotel and her family. Our narrator has many hopes, but they are frequently burst open and leaking like the ancient plumbing system of the hotel. Sounds like a real bummer- and I assure you, it is- but sometimes it feels good to feel bad, you know?
Rose Mellie Rose
This was the last piece that I read, but were I to mount this project again (or were you to pick it up for the first time yourself) I would like to start with Rose Mellie Rose. This is the most magical of the pieces: babies in grottos, disappearing and reappearing inland seas, many people with the same names who may or may not be the same people, and a beach that is absolutely covered – literally – in seagulls. Aside from being magical, it is also the most mired in strange bureaucratic red tape. The odd town of Oat is populated by very few people who hold very many titles, and their sense of order and duty is bonkers to the point of feeling like a Yorgos Lanthimos film. You will cackle with laughter, but you will also feel a disturbance deep in your gut.
This was my introduction to the trilogy, and I read it in heavy turbulence while flying in a teeeeeeeensy plane (occupancy: four people) from New Hampshire to Wisconsin. I do not recommend that setting, but I do recommend this book! A tiny valley holds a former rectory, the ruins of a church, and an impropmtu dance hall. The residents include a very young and illiterate girl who is our narrator, the woman who owns the dance hall, and a man known only as The Father who is not the father of the young girl and is probably not a former priest, despite his residence in the crumbling rectory. The girl is caught up between the care of the ailing man, the allure of the dance hall, and the attention of Customs Officers in the village below the valley. Her prime fascination: finding the dead. She splits her time between working in the dance hall and digging pits around the rectory garden searching for bodies. People used to live in Forever Valley- where are they now? She plans to find the dead, no matter how many dance lessons, scurrilous suitors, and sudden deaths fall at her doorstep.
All three tales are catnip for me: missing narrative pieces, mysterious bureaucracy, miraculous death and birth, comedies and tragedies of simple error. I will be revisiting these again, and probably soon!