- By Nancy Huston
- McArthur & Company, 264 pages, $30
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This article was published 9/12/2011 (3852 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While this may not be the best novel to give Auntie Em for Christmas, it is an ideal heterosexual pillow book for couples looking for a little spice on cold winter nights.
Author Nancy Huston, a Calgarian living in France, has won a Governor General's Literary Award for French fiction for her adaptation of her novel Plainsong.
The Mark of the Angel, an international bestseller, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. She was made an officer in the Order of Canada in 2005.
It's not surprising that Infrared has a sharp psychological edge and plenty of frank sexual vernacular. Huston completed her MA in France with a dissertation on swear words for the noted French philosopher and writer Roland Barthes. This novel would sit comfortably next to Blue of Noon by Georges Bataille and novels by his friend Raymond Queneau.
The protagonist and narrator is Rena, a photographer who has committed to do a tour of Florence and Tuscany with her father and her stepmother. The well-structured plot touches on the usual conflicts one might expect between a 42-year-old and aging parents.
The trip is complicated by Rena's connections to her Muslim lover back in Paris calling her to come home because of the riots; her reflections on her life as a lover; and the relationship with her brother and her father often revealed in discussions with her imaginary friend Subra.
Readers accepting Rena's internal dialogues and Huston's methods for presenting them will be rewarded with intelligent, sensual and sexy prose in a story unapologetically about female desire with a firm feminist hand on the tiller.
The troubling aspects of the novel concern sibling rivalry, beginning with her brother's jealousy at her birth, his attempts to suffocate Rena, his deflowering her with a stick and subsequent sexual exploitation continuing when he returns from a boy's boarding school where he is abused.
Huston follows this up with Rena's visits to see a shrink who is a friend of her father's. Transference is reversed and doubled with the psychiatrist having an affair, heavily laced with bondage and sadism, with the 15-year-old Rena. Meanwhile, her father has an affair with another young woman.
Extended metaphors can be tiresome, especially when spelled out. Infrared refers to a kind of photography more reliant on heat than light, which is about right for this novel, but the several paragraphs explaining the metaphor are not necessary.
However, the importance of the idea of photography in the novel stands up, especially in the image's relationship to memory and a camera's relationship to the gaze of desire.
The quotes from American photographer Diane Arbus at the beginning of each chapter seem a little excessive, until the last couple of chapters, when they carry significant meaning for the progress of the story.
Huston has a fine sense of wry humour. For example, after Rena encourages a widowed friend to be a little more sexually adventurous, she observes, "As long as you keep away from the intellectuals, Frenchmen are remarkable lovers."
Victor Enns is a Winnipeg writer who likes to read in bed.
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