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Fiction Family Life

Mad Shadows

by (author) Marie-Claire Blais

afterword by Daphne Marlatt

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Aug 2008
Family Life, 20th Century, Classics
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2008
    List Price

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A harrowing pathology of the soul, Mad Shadows centres on a family group: Patrice, the beautiful and narcissistic son; his ugly and malicious sister, Isabelle-Marie; and Louise, their vain and uncomprehending mother. These characters inhabit an amoral universe where beauty reflects no truth and love is an empty delusion. Each character is ultimately annihilated by their own obsessions.

Acclaimed and reviled when it exploded on the Quebec literary scene in 1959, Mad Shadows initiated a new era in Quebec fiction.

About the authors

Marie-Claire Blais is a defining figure in Canada&146;s literary landscape, with over 30 books to her credit, including La Belle Bete (Mad Shadows), published when she was twenty, Une Saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (A Season in the Life of Emmanuel), which is now taught regularly in university and college courses, and Soifs (These Festive Nights), which won the Governor General's Award in 1996.

Marie-Claire Blais' profile page

Daphne Marlatt
Daphne Marlatt was at the centre of the West Coast poetry movement of the 1960s, studying at UBC and with many of Donald Allen’s New American Poets, most notably Robert Creeley. Her writing includes prose narratives on the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver and of Steveston and several poetry books. In early 2006, she was appointed to the Order of Canada in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished service to Canadian culture.

Toyoshi Yoshihara
Toyoshi Yoshihara is an award-winning translator who has worked tirelessly to introduce English-language works of drama to Japanese audiences. A Canadian industrialist, he has translated over seventy Canadian plays into Japanese; heads the Maple Leaf Theatre in Japan; and is an honorary lifetime member of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research.

Daphne Marlatt's profile page

Excerpt: Mad Shadows (by (author) Marie-Claire Blais; afterword by Daphne Marlatt)



Lying back with his head against his mother’s shoulder, Patrice followed the dappled countryside with a melancholy expression. Behind his forehead everything grew confused, like a billowing stormcloud on a screen. He watched in silence and did not understand, but his idiot face was so dazzling that it made one think of genius. His mother caressed the nape of his neck with the palm of her hand. With a gentle slip of her all-too-supple wrist she could lower Patrice’s head to her bosom and hear his breathing more easily.

On the other side, aloof and motionless, her daughter Isabelle-Marie sat pressing her sharp features against the window. Louise often said to herself, “Isabelle-Marie never really had the face of a child . . . But Patrice . . . Oh, Patrice!”

Isabelle-Marie was thirteen. She was tall and emaciated; her alarming eyes, so often full of anger, seemed glued to black bone. When she scowled, the lower part of her face twisted into a look of fierce contempt. It was almost frightening.

Her mother Louise, who was rich and owned many farms, gave her daughter all the most menial chores in order to devote her life and her remaining youth to Patrice. One could see that Louise believed in herself and above all, to the point of obsession, in the beauty of Patrice.

In the seats nearby, the passengers were looking at her son. Weary of having nothing to think about, the child yielded to sleep, gently, with a drop of perspiration on his brow. Louise wiped the drop away with the tip of her finger and smiled with pride at the thought that the beauty of her son was becoming ever more devastating, to even the coldest onlooker.

“Patrice . . . such a magnificent child!”

At the same moment, Isabelle-Marie thought, Patrice, the Idiot!

Patrice did not seem to worry about himself. He pressed even closer to his mother, his large green eyes empty as the night. Now and then his eyelashes and his cheeks would tremble, suddenly, and not in unison. His forehead was white, intact, and soft as the thigh of a swan. His bare lips curved without the slightest trace of tension. Never was there a sign of life on these lips. The lips of a corpse. Isabelle-Marie cast a sly look at him.

“A Beautiful Beast!” she muttered between her teeth.

Louise did not question the intelligence of her ten-year-old Adonis. He spoke very little, but she attributed this speechlessness, like the silence of the gods, to unconcern.

His extraordinary beauty satisfied her every wish. Nevertheless, Patrice was an idiot. Isabelle-Marie knew that behind his pale forehead was the deep stupor of an inactive mind, the lethargy of a dead brain. How cold it must be beneath his skin, she thought and was ashamed to see him sleeping peacefully, protected by his mother’s shoulder. She knew that the woman’s eyes, indeed her whole being, rested on this solitary and fragile beauty.

The passengers never stopped looking at Patrice. Isabelle-Marie began to blush. She felt sick to her stomach. Soon she saw nothing outside the window. A strange desire to die came over her. She rose and pressed against the cold glass. Her bruised cheek shivered. In an awkward attempt to hide her trembling, Isabelle-Marie clawed at the pane with her nails, trying to hold onto it . . . Louise did not see her. Louise never really dared look at her. Finally Isabelle-Marie buried her face in her hands.

“Mother, I have a fever.”

Bewildered, physically terrified by the people around her, she heard a woman cry out, “What a handsome son you have!”

And Louise, in her contented voice, answered, “Isn’t he, though?”

Isabelle-Marie fainted.

When she opened her eyes, they were drawing into the station. The other passengers, she was relieved to discover, had forgotten about the beauty of her brother. They walked hurriedly toward the station, paying no attention to one another. Isabelle-Marie began to breathe again. Blood warmed her legs and she felt a sense of release, a crazy desire to burst out laughing now that the torture had ceased.

“What is it, Isabelle-Marie?” asked Louise in a deceitful tone of voice.

“Nothing at all, Mother. Only a slight dizziness . . .”

Louise held her son’s hand nested in her own and the two of them slipped through the crowd, oblivious of the smoke that filled the air. The blond child followed indolently, his head resting against his mother’s elbow. Isabelle-Marie was sorry that the sun cast such an aura of innocence over Patrice’s hair. She followed her brother, awkward in her black dress . . . and more awkward still in the flesh.

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