Suddenly the Minotaur

By (author) Marie Hélène Poitras
Translated by Patricia Claxton
Categories: Fiction: general and literary, Fiction and Related items
Publisher: DC Books
Paperback : 9781897190166, 162 pages, November 2006


Why did Guatemalan immigrant Mino TorrËs try to rape Quebec student Ariane? What was the failed attemptís aftermath? In this terse, prize-winning novel, Marie HÈlËne Poitras, with an imagination tutored by the Minotaur myth, offers a controversial tale about a thug who exults in his ferocious urges and is as incorrigible as a primal force. TorrËs (the bull) enthusiastically and unapologetically seeks hectic transcendence through rape and recurring fits of epilepsy. Ariane (Ariadne), straying into his twisted, downtown Montreal labyrinth, suffers the consequences of his random sexual predation, though significantly, her refusal to be a terrorized and passive victim haunts him. Arianeís deliverance from his maze, her conquest of persistent fears, is prolonged past her assailantís capture. Once more she must learn to live and loveñin particular, menñto pick up and follow the thread of human trust, to feel sure again about her flatís dark places and her walk-in cupboardís contents. On the site of the Berlin Wall, in a reunified Germany that has survived its own and other regimesí violent perversions, she permits herself to be gently hoisted up and passed from palm-to-palm over a vast and joy-filled crowd. she permits herself to be gently hoisted up and passed from palm-to-palm over a vast and joy-filled crowd.


Suddenly the Minotaur by Marie Hlne Poitras is composed of two first-person narratives. In the first, a young serial rapist called MinoTorres thinks back over his crimes in Guatemala and Montreal and fantasizes about his victims as he serves time in a Penetanguishene prison in Ontario. In the second, Ariane, a woman whom he knifed in an attempted rape, recounts the event, and her struggle to recover from the trauma through a journey to Dachau. In her short Translator's Note, Patricia Claxton identifies the particular difficulties posed by the translation. Not surprisingly, as she notes, finding the right voice and register for the rapist is problematic. She is kind enough not to point out that the original itself is in delicate waters on this point, offering a text in fluent - even at times poetic - French, with a sprinkling of Spanish, for a relatively uneducated character for whom French is a recently acquired second language. Claxton uses her considerable experience as a literary translator to navigate the challenge. The shifts between the more literary and the more brutal elements are not always perfectly seamless (nor are they in the original), but through her choices of concrete and idiomatic formulations Claxton succeeds remarkably in translating forcefully the unrepentant brutality of the rapist. Ariane's alternation between the narration of the attempted rape and her trip to Dachau is an uneasy juxtaposition, but Claxton's translation is accurate and economical, audacious in its directness. When Ariane looks out over the red-light district of Hamburg from a tower, the French is to the point: Hambourg s'tendait devant moi, les jambes ouvertes. D'une tour, j'apercevais les nons des sex-shops, veills les uns aprs les autres par le dclin du soleil . .. Six glises certaines aux clochers tronqus par les bombardements de la guerre, se dressaient comme autant de sexes en veil . .. Depuis le 4 novembre prcdent, je pressentais des signes de trop-plein de dsir partout o je posais les yeux. Claxton makes a number of small lexical adjustments to keep her text English, re-establishes the appropriate verb tenses and aspect, but makes no compromises in the narrator's underlying emotion. There are no attempts here to soften unduly or dissimulate any hard angles. The words are straight to the point: Hamburg lay before me, legs spread. From a tower, I saw the sex-shop neon signs light up one by one as the sun went down . .. Six church steeples, some truncated by wartime bombings, rose like so many phalluses at the ready . .. Since the preceding November 4, I had been getting early-warning signs of desire overflow everywhere I looked. -- University of Toronto Quarterly, Winter 2008