Quebec native Geneviève Castrée exorcises the demons of a strife-filled upbringing in her autobiographic novel Susceptible.
Born to a teenaged mother and a drifter father who eventually leaves the family, Castrée (represented in the book by her surrogate Goglu) tells the story of her strained relationship with her unprepared mother. Her only father figure is her mother’s unpleasant, emotionally abusive boyfriend, who’s portrayed with a perpetual scowl on his face. As she ages, Goglu finds comfort in art, becomes a teenage rebel and eventually reconnects with her father as a means to find a way out of an increasingly depressing home life.
Told in fragments from Castrée’s memory, the book reads like a series of journal entries that might have read well in segments, but lose something in the greater narrative. Characters come and go and some of the main players never seem to progress beyond caricatures. As the budding relationship between Goglu and her father in BC just starts to develop, the narrative suddenly switches back to Quebec and more strife with her mother.
It’s commendable that Castrée chose to tell the story as she saw it — as opposed to embellishing and cheapening the experience — and the choppiness may just be the way memories work. However, a few more narrative connections would have helped hold the story together.
Storytelling issues aside, one can’t deny that Susceptible is a beautiful book. Whether she’s rendering an eerily still scene of a ferry crossing a frozen river, or a horrific geometric pattern of Ecole Polytechnique victims’ dead bodies in a pile, Castrée’s delicate line work and textured ink washes complement a variety of atmospheres. She can fill a scene with minute details in a way that doesn’t feel busy and her simple characters tell much of the story through their expressive eyes.