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The Immaculate Conception    by Gaétan Soucy order for
Immaculate Conception
by Gaétan Soucy
Order:  USA  Can
Anansi, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Michael Graves

The Immaculate Conception by Gaétan Soucy is a fascinating novel. Written in French, in 1994, it has made its English language debut more than ten years later (translated by Lazer Lederhandler). It has again received rave reviews and was short listed for the 2006 Giller Prize.

At one point in the book we are told that 'The Vicar began to wonder into what madhouse of a parish he had landed'. In many ways this sentence summarizes my feelings, while being totally absorbed in this mysterious novel. The book is filled with highly imaginative and expressive language as well as grotesque images and events that create an alluring tale. The novel combines tragedy and suspense with unforgettable characters to weave an engrossing story of life in Montreal of the 1920s.

Shadowy characters have motivations that are never wholly revealed - and yet the concluding epilogue does an excellent job in tying together a number of loose ends. Although the story is gripping, the characters are the driving force in the novel and have a strange appeal that although larger than life clearly reflect emotions encountered in daily lives. Through the two very separate characters of Remouald Tremblay and Clémentine Clément we encounter loneliness, unrequited love, lost friendships and unaccomplished dreams - which although heavy material is covered in a manner that is not depressing.

This is a delicious novel and is to be savoured as Clémentine does with a 'finger of port wine with which she would indulge herself whenever she finished reading a novel'.

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