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Fiction Literary

The Body of the Beasts

by (author) Audrée Wilhelmy

translated by Susan Ouriou

House of Anansi Press Inc
Initial publish date
Jul 2019
Literary, Family Life, Magical Realism
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2019
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    Publish Date
    Jul 2019
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Disturbing and sensuous, Audrée Wilhelmy’s tale of a hermetic family minding a lighthouse in willed isolation is reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

The Body of Beasts is a startling, gorgeously written novel that tells the story of the Borya family living in isolation. Their lives are altered when young Osip, peering from the lighthouse gallery sees a woman, Noé, arrive — her dress scant, her skin curiously scarred, and her manner mysterious and wild.

Noé bears a child, Mie, to the eldest son on whose hunter-gathering the Borya family depends. She lives in a cabin on her own and covers the walls with drawings that allude to her mysterious life. The family’s entrenchment in nature is enthrallingly conveyed in young Mie’s sensuous ability to borrow at will the body of mammals, birds, fish, and insects. Her shape-shifting allows her to know the ways of the natural world, though only to a point. When her own awakening body starts to intrigue her, she asks her uncle Osip to “teach me human sex.”

The Body of the Beasts is an imaginative tour de force, a beautifully described portrait of a world that exists outside of words; an uninhibited and erotic novel that, in the singular tradition of Québécois Boreal Gothic, explores our humanity — and animal nature.

About the authors

AUDRÉE WILHELMY was born in 1985 in Cap Rouge, Quebec and now lives in Montreal. She is the winner of France’s Sade Award, has been a finalist for the Governor-General’s Literary Award, and was shortlisted for the Prix France-Québec and the Quebec Booksellers Award. The Body of the Beasts is her third novel and the first to be translated into English.

Audrée Wilhelmy's profile page

Susan Ouriou is an award-winning literary translator who has translated the fiction of Quebec, Latin-American, French and Spanish authors. She won Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation in 2009 for Pieces of Me by Charlotte Gingras, after first being shortlisted for The Road to Chlifa by Michèle Marineau and then for Necessary Betrayals by Guillaume Vigneault. The Road to Chlifa was also awarded an honour list placing by IBBY (International Board of Books for Youth) as were Naomi and Mrs. Lumbago by Gilles Tibo, This Side of the Sky by Marie-Francine Hébert and Pieces of Me. Necessary Betrayals was also voted one of the 100 best books of 2002 by the Globe and Mail. Another translation, The Thirteenth Summer by José Luis Olaizola, was runner-up for the John Glassco Translation Prize. She has worked as the director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre and as faculty for the Banff Centre's Aboriginal Emerging Writers residency. She is the editor of the 2010 anthology Beyond Words – Translating the World.

Susan Ouriou's profile page

Excerpt: The Body of the Beasts (by (author) Audrée Wilhelmy; translated by Susan Ouriou)

A wharf jutting out into the open sea. Waves rumble below, foam spouts from cracks between the planks. Men angle for tuna and stingrays. They cast their lines from the platform at the far end of the jetty, where the water is already deep, and wrest huge creatures from the sea that drench them in salt water as they writhe in mid-air and then again on the pier’s wooden planking. A warm breeze blows in from the interior and whips the clothing of passersby against their bodies and roars in their ears. Perched on the guardrails or on the backs of benches, children eat ice cream that trickles between their fingers and onto their bare bellies. The heat of the beach is like no other, worn like a piece of clothing.

So different from the others in their long shirts, the Borya brothers serve as their mother’s bodyguards. She holds the youngest on her hip and strides toward the fishermen, her skirts billowing around her legs. Three coins jangle in her pocket and their clinking combines with the clacking of her heels against the wharf. The biggest fish require tough bargaining, so the boys’ father sent his wife. He told her to wear her grey dress, the one with the low-cut square neck that shows off her breasts, plump with milk. She makes her way toward the men, her attempt at sensuality somewhat hindered by the presence of her sons. The eldest walks in front of her, pushing a wheelbarrow three times his weight to transport the animal once the deal has been made. The younger two run to keep up with their mother’s swaying gait. As for her, she sees only the huge fish hanging mid-wharf, the fishermen’s sturdy bodies, the blue water and the light sparkling on its surface.

Osip Borya, chasing a salamander, has stayed behind. By the time he loses the tiny creature in the tall grasses, his mother and brothers have left. He can’t see them anywhere. Immediately overhead, seagulls wheel like sparrow hawks. A pelican swoops toward the beach, throat stretched taut with its catch, and lands on a post right next to the boy. The bird is still dripping from its plunge into the water. It looks at the child, throws its skull back and, swallowing its prey in one majestic gulp, unfurls its wings. At that exact moment, several things occur. First, the pelican lifts off and returns to its position on the waves. Then, watching the seabird, Osip spies his mother at the end of the wharf and notices a tiny movement she makes: as her right foot lifts out of its shoe, she reaches down to brush sand off the sole of her foot. Just behind her, a fisherman lets out a shout and hauls from the water a five-foot-long swordfish thrashing around like a demon. Three men harpoon it to sap the creature’s strength.

Editorial Reviews

The Body of the Beasts is a visceral story with wings: rhythmically beating, it both suffocates readers and prepares us to soar.

World Literature Today

Masterful … Finding beauty in unexpected places, be they natural settings or seldom-explored corners of human behaviour, is something Wilhelmy does as well as any young writer in any language.

Montreal Gazette

Sensual and strange.


With a miniaturist’s touch, Audrée Wilhelmy creates a singular universe suffused with sap and silence, at once lush to the limit, smothering and amoral … A tour de force of audacity and sensuality achieved unhesitatingly in full-bodied writing that is precise and without misstep. A brilliant novel that explores from on high an aspect of the human condition too often eluded: our own bestiality.

Le Devoir

The Body of the Beasts is daring and darkly erotic, as emotionally and morally elusive as the characters who roam within it … Wilhelmy’s language is tight yet immersive; there is an underlying melancholy to it, like being alone in a forest with nothing but the sound of rustling leaves. It is rare and delightful to find a novel where language and character move so seamlessly together, hand in hand … A piece of this book will linger.

Literary Review of Canada

[Wilhelmy] is a meticulous recorder of the dramatic wilderness … Lovely writing.

Kirkus Reviews

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