The Silent City
by Élisabeth Vonarburg
translated by Jane Brierley
A complex and resonant story, the most notable thing, perhaps, about this novel is way it shifts and reinvents itself, becoming a different kind of tale every few chapters. It’s set in a vaguely post-apocalyptic setting, with most of the world regressed to savagery and a few mechanised cities still holding secrets of high technology. The story follows a girl (later woman), Elisa, who may hold the secret for the rejuvenation or re-creation of the human race. Gender and reality dissolve and reconstitute themselves as we follow Elisa over the course of decades.
It’s thought-provoking, and almost too rich to hold in the mind. The translation seems solid to me, though I haven’t seen the French original; at any rate, there weren’t too many Francicisms that I noticed (am I wrong to think that Gallicism would be an inaccurate word when speaking of a Québecois text?). It’s thoughtful, unpredictable, and satisfying. Intriguingly, to me it has the feel of a European sf novel — which I suppose I would identify as a kind of allegorical sense, a story that is conscious of itself as a vehicle for ideas more than as a tale driven by genre or indeed narrative conventions. Which is to say that it’s not plot-driven, even though it contains a complex plot, a rich world, and elements of adventure and exploration. It’s almost too full of matter; and that is always worth reading.