Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Montreal author Gil Courtemanche dives right in, elbows deep, into the Rwandan genocide of 1994. As such, this is not an easy novel to read.

Necessarily, it is filled with barbaric violence, committed on a wide scale, mainly in face-to-face encounters with machetes, knives and clubs. The novel also depicts a number of graphic, horrifying accounts of the sexual violence which accompanied the genocide, and no doubt this too belongs in this novel.

Courtemanche, however, takes an artistic stand toward love (and sex) and death, which again, considering the subject matter, is probably appropriate, although at times, particularly the protracted death of Gentille, hovers above a strange nexus. Would a woman undergoing a sexual assault think the thoughts that Courtemanche places in her head? I don’t know; the subjective fixation of this novel, its keen eye on the existential issues of sex and death and violence, preclude an easy answer. But many times it seems the author is off the mark and well into the domain of gratuitous expression. Women are treated as bodies to either love or abuse.

This is an unsettling novel, written in an odd register, with concerns and fixations that are both mundane and odd. At times it reads like an extended political book, with long speeches, at others, it is painfully naturalistic. The result is mixed, not extremely satisfying, and off-kilter.

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