Brief Review: Private Property: A Novel by Paule Constant [Vol. 4, #26]

December 16, 2011 — Leave a comment

 

A Brief Review of

Private Property: A Novel.
Paule Constant.
Translated from the French
by Margot Miller and France Grenaudier-Klijn
Paperback: Bison Books, 2011.
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Reviewed by Ruth Huizenga Everhart

If you’ve ever been a middle schooler enduring a cafeteria lunch, if you’ve ever spent a recess wishing you could disappear into a brick wall, if you’ve ever longed for home — you may find something to relate to in this novel.

Private Property might be called a coming of age novel, although it is more literary than this genre might imply. The novel deals with questions such as: Do I exist if other people don’t see me? Who is my family? Where is my home? Where do I find solace?

This novel was written in the 1980s and recently translated. It is the second novel in a trilogy about related characters, although it can be read independently.

At the opening of the novel, Tiffany Murano has been sent to a Catholic boarding school in France by her parents, who are French expatriates in Africa. The move has been momentous, removing from Tiffany her sense of place, of home, of family. She does not fit into her new school, which is aptly called “the Slaughterhouse School” after a nearby business. The savagery of the school’s name implies the scale of what Tiffany has lost. She finds sanctuary in periodic visits to her grandparents’ farm, which is the private property of the title. The grandmother is a warm mother-substitute, but Tiffany must endure her death. The blood motif recurs in a troubling scene. Eventually Tiffany’s absent mother shows up, bringing drama in her wake. She seems unaware of anyone’s needs save her own. The question becomes: Who is the adult and who is the child?

Paule Constant writes beautiful prose. She does not waste words. She can make a small moment loom as large as it does in real experience. She is at her best in crafting memorable images with a single sentence. This is the kind of book best savored rather than gulped.