Novella a Day in May 2020 #12

La Blanche – Mai-Do Hamisultane (2013, trans. Suzi Ceulan Hughes 2019) 80 pages

La Blanche is set largely in Casablanca, and so forms another stop on my much-neglected Around the World in 80 Books reading challenge, hosted by Hard Book Habit who sadly don’t seem to be blogging any more but it’s a great challenge so do join in if you can!

 La Blanche is narrated by a young woman whose grandfather was murdered in their home in 1992. Along with her mother she flees Morocco to France, but following a painful break-up of a relationship finds herself heading back to the land of her birth.

“It rained heavily in the night. Torrential summer rain. I didn’t sleep a wink. Perhaps partly too, because I’m anxious about going back to Morocco. It’s as though I’d been bracketing off my childhood for years. Once I’d arrived in France I’d never thought about my childhood in Casablanca again. I’d left it all over there, apart from a little scrap of white paper, folded in four, that I always keep with me.”

The narrative moves back and forth across time, building a picture of her privileged childhood in Casablanca, the violence that shattered it, and the psychological fall-out from a disintegrating romantic relationship as an adult. This is handled expertly and is never confusing, blending together with ease to create a fully realised portrait of this young woman’s life.

The language is taut and every word placed carefully – hence this novella only comes in at 80 pages – but the story is in no way underwritten. Hamisultane has a startling and inventive way of writing, such as here, when the narrator awakes to realise her lover has left:

“It’s morning. The bed is empty. Light is flowing across the room. I close the shutters because I’m afraid it might flow straight though my body.”

It’s so impressive that La Blanche was a debut novel. The time shifts, language and characterisation are handled so deftly making for a satisfying and evocative read.

“My grandfather wakes me.

It is dawn.

He’s taking me out with him.

‘As quick as you can,’ he says to me. ‘While we can still see the morning dew beading the blooms on the rose bushes.’”