cover image The Boy

The Boy

Marcus Malte, trans. from the French by Emma Ramadan and Tom Roberge. Restless, $22.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-63206-171-3

Set in early-20th-century France, this novel from Malte (Garden of Love), winner of the Prix Femina, follows a nameless, wordless boy who sets out to embrace humanity after being raised in the wild by his mother. With WWI looming, the adolescent boy is left by his mother at a hamlet, where he first experiences the inner life of the common family, including the thoughtful ramblings of a performing “ogre” (as he calls him), the patriarch of his new home. He also meets Emma, who introduces him to the music of the piano and his first romance. Early on, the prose reads like staccato bullet-points (“He eats figs./ He eats prunes./ He eats gooseberries.”), and as the story goes on, it becomes elegant, passionate, and forceful, mirroring the boy’s intellectual development as he leaves the hamlet and enters the war. Malte’s descriptions of the war are particularly striking (“He tries to take back his leg but Death holds on. Groveling Death. He pulls harder and the man weakens, he sees the entrails move, viscous, a nest of tangled spiders.”), delivered in massive paragraphs that force the reader to viscerally experience the chaos of the battlefield. Malte’s outwardly simple tale of romance and war ends up being a profound meditation on wisdom. (Mar.)