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Short novel set in BRITTANY, France

2nd May 2024

About Uncle by Rebecca Gisler, short novel set in Brittany, France.

TR: Jordan Stump

Short novel set in BRITTANY, France

About Uncle by Rebecca Gisler is an extraordinary book, which I struggle to place in any particular genre, except perhaps fairy tale. Initially, some of the descriptions are quite repulsive and I’d like to say it gets better, but I am afraid the reader just has to adjust their sensitivity levels. I am here to tell you that it’s worth persevering.

Gisler gives us a first-hand account by an unnamed young woman, who has lived with her uncle in Brittany since she was a child. The narrative isn’t strictly chronological, but we learn that she and her brother were born in Switzerland to French parents. They regularly holidayed with their Breton grandparents and, when they died, the young family came to live with her unmarried uncle. The narrator is the only one who has stayed.

Uncle is a grotesque figure. He suffers from physical ailments and possibly has a congenital condition that makes him different in his behaviour and attitudes, many of which the narrator – and society – find objectionable. Despite this, there is obvious affection in the family and that influences our attitude to them, as well as making us care about what happens next. Ultimately the narrator comes to rely on Uncle in the kind of inter-dependence that carers and patients experience, when shut off from the everyday world.

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The language of the book disobeys many rules of grammar and syntax. It must have been quite a headache for translator, Jordan Stump, to capture this style while ensuring it remains readable. Chapeau!

Although the setting is Brittany, descriptions of the scenery are not key to the book and the author concentrates her best efforts on describing the more sordid aspects of life in Uncle’s house. There are also surreal Train-spotting-type excursions into the plumbing, which might be the poor narrator losing her marbles…

Gisler’s narrator mentions in passing her interest in Kafka and there are definite influences to be seen in this work. Less high-brow parallels could be drawn with Roald Dahl and the Lemony Snicket books. All-in-all a quirky and unusual book that’s worth the journey.

Sue for the TripFiction Team

Catch our reviewer Sue on TwitterX @SueKelsoRyan and on IG @SueKelosRyan

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