Cliffs – Olivier Adam (2005, trans. Sue Rose, 2009) 147 pages
Set over the course of a single night, Cliffs shows the enduring damage caused to the child – now a grown man – of a parent who dies by suicide.
The narrator is sitting on a balcony on the Normandy coast in the middle of the night, gazing at the cliffs where his mother died, while his partner and child lie sleeping in the room behind him. As he sits and smokes, he reflects on his life with his abusive father and his traumatised brother:
“We weren’t supposed to breathe move speak feel. We weren’t supposed to need anything, pocket money or comfort or affection or smiles or advice, we weren’t supposed to expect anything except the slaps, smacks or wallops he dealt out”
Later he meets other damaged souls, drawn together by a mutual recognition:
“We’ve grown up in fear of our fathers, the troubled silence of our mothers, the empty space formed by abstract, imaginary places, without edge or centre.”
Cliffs isn’t a depressing book; it is a story of survival, of endurance even when we are irrevocably damaged by experience.
“This way of life didn’t cure me of anything, it was merely possible when I couldn’t cope with any other kind of life, particularly the one I’d just left behind. It was a life of silence, space and absence, of maintaining an acute presence within objects, the shifting play of light, the still motion of water, the perfumes, the texture of the air. It was a life in which I finally found a niche, quiet but peaceful, a body filled with air and fog, a mind completely given over to the noise of the sea and the wind, the company of birds.”
Cliffs is beautifully written, but the beauty in no way detracts from the raw hurt experienced by narrator. It is an intense read, haunting and memorable.