Nancy Huston, Souliers d’Or (1998)

I love Nancy Huston, so I couldn’t resist borrowing this middle grade novella (I’m not thinking average, I’m thinking for readers above 12) from my local children and YA library.

Several writers were asked to write a novella with a chosen color to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the French YA collection: “Pages blanches”. Huston chose gold and her novella is brimming with summer joy.

Jillie loves to play the piano but her conservative parents make her study classical music. But that summer, her African-American neighbor Johnny Dermott make her discover another music: ragtime, jazz, boogie, blues, negro-spirituals. Johnny and his family don’t own a piano and can’t play music at home. Mrs Dermott doesn’t like music, you see, and even Mr. Dermott has to come to Jillie’s on the sly to play.

It’s fun because this novella resonated in quite a different way with the short story collection by Kazuo Ishiguro centered on music, that I recently read and reviewed. With Ishiguro, music was melancholy and muted, here it’s a joyful, energetic tumult.

It’s not all rosy and Pollyannaish: the novella also speaks of death, handicap, prejudices and moving, all with a light, caring touch. The real suspense and a sense of loss at the end made it quite a good read even as an adult. Warmly recommended (although only available in French I think).

PS. It just occurred to me that Huston may have been inspired by real spiritual songs. Apparently there’s a title that goes: “Someday I’m goin’ to put on my golden shoes” and another named “Golden slippers” but I don’t know how they sound.

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2 thoughts on “Nancy Huston, Souliers d’Or (1998)

  1. I didn’t realize that Huston wrote for children/young adults as well. She is definitely one of my favorite francophone writers working today. What’s your favorite of hers, by the way?

  2. My favorite are non-fiction (only in French): Journal de la Création (about her pregancy) and Nord Perdu (about expatriation and bilingualism). I guess both might interest you. If you read them please tell me what you think!

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