Mercury Under My Tongue

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Frederick Langlois could be that geeky 17-year-old found in every high school — the one who closely clutches his poem-filled notebook, who feels a bit too deeply, who’s just a little too old for his years. But Frederick isn’t in high school. He’s in a hospital ward with other critically ill adolescents, dying of bone cancer. Mercury Under the Tongue chronicles his short stay there, from his distant but friendly relationship with his therapist through comic moments in the ward and his emergent friendships with ...

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Overview

Frederick Langlois could be that geeky 17-year-old found in every high school — the one who closely clutches his poem-filled notebook, who feels a bit too deeply, who’s just a little too old for his years. But Frederick isn’t in high school. He’s in a hospital ward with other critically ill adolescents, dying of bone cancer. Mercury Under the Tongue chronicles his short stay there, from his distant but friendly relationship with his therapist through comic moments in the ward and his emergent friendships with other teenage patients. Some survive, others are lost, and at the end, Frederick must make a final reckoning with himself and his family, one that is at once dispassionate and deeply felt. Avoiding both misty stoicism and made-for-TV bathos, the book exposes the fallible body as the humanizing factor that grounds spirited adolescent talk, creating a believable, likable protagonist while weaving a compelling, lyrical story.

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Editorial Reviews

Tayt Harlin
Sylvain Trudel's acid novel Mercury Under My Tongue, tartly translated from the French by Sheila Fischman, is a tale told by a 16-year-old named Frederic Langlois who is dying of bone cancer in a Montreal hospital. By turns terrified and embittered, Frederic pours forth his thoughts on what he conceives of as his physical, moral and spiritual degeneration with an articulateness that belies his age. Fortunately, unlike the precocious child narrators that populate so much fiction, there isn't a whiff of gee-whiz wonderment or innocence about him. He's thoroughly disillusioned…Nevertheless, he is a captivating narrator, reminiscent of the speakers in Thomas Bernhard's work, who also talk a blue streak of self-loathing.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Québécois novelist Trudel convincingly conjures the bitterly sad imagination of a 17-year-old boy dying of hip-bone sarcoma. Lying in a Canadian hospital near the Missiquoi Bay, Frédéric has "a kind of dark faith" in himself. Bored and often in terrible pain in his "bachelor pad," he tools around the corridors in his wheelchair with other young patients and has faith in what he knows, which is that he is neither good nor bad, and that his soul will die with him. He fantasizes about his well-meaning but ineffectual psychotherapist, Maryse Bouthillier. With a 15-year-old leukemia patient he meets, Marilou Desjardins, he writes poetry and imagines sharing love, marriage and children. In his heart, Frédéric is furious at his bad luck and angry at such visitors as the Abbé Guillemette, who lectures about belief and sin when Frédéric cannot see any use for hope or penance, perversely signing his poetry after an 18th-century Italian poet, Metastasio. Frédéric refuses to entertain self-pity, and his voice is immediate, winning and utterly believable until the end. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA
Frederic Langlois is seventeen years old and dying of bone cancer. He spends his days in the hospital, looking down the blouse of his psychologist, commiserating with his fellow cancer patients in the ward, sharing poetry with the girl he would have liked to date, and feeling a mix of jealousy and happiness for those who escape death and leave the hospital alive. Frederic's words spill out of him and into a notebook where he tells the truth about his feelings, his experiences, his family, and his friends. Unfortunately this book seems to be a continuous string of words without a clear beginning or end and with no real story. The aforementioned interactions with other characters are fleeting, and the reader is left with aimless ramblings that are more suited to a middle-aged college professor than to a teenaged boy. Originally written in French, there are many awkward moments where the translation is painfully apparent, but the book's flaws cannot be blamed totally on its origin. The excessive wordiness (run-on sentences that are paragraph length) and overly flowery language are sure to turn off teen readers long before they realize that there is little plot to keep them interested. The inclusion of countless religious references serves as a negative as well. For a realistic and thought-provoking story about a teenager suffering from terminal cancer, read and recommend Before I Die by Jenny Downham (David Fickling Books/Random House, 2007). Reviewer: Kimberly Paone
School Library Journal

Adult/High School -Frederick Langlois is a 17-year-old philosopher in the tradition of a young Thomas Wolfe or Jack Kerouac. In wordy, raw, sometimes aggressive prose, he mourns the insincerity of the adult world, his own isolation, the apathetic wastefulness of his father's life, and a powerful disconnection from the Catholic Church. At the same time, Frederick's precise understanding and intense warmth intensify his connection to those who surround him. Moments with his mother, grandmother, siblings, and friends pulse with gratitude and tenderness. Frederick describes his relationship with one friend: "we quickly became buddies who understand each other in secret, like the uvula and the epiglottis." He is complex, passionate, loquacious, and thoughtful. He is also in a hospital ward, dying of bone cancer. Though it would be tempting, given this setting and context, to create a pitiable or overtly angelic protagonist, Trudel does an excellent job of avoiding either option. Instead, he creates a well-formed, likable, yet flawed character: a bright, confused, and frightened teenager grappling with existence. Life in the hospital ward, aside from its inherent philosophical musings, is extreme, equally full of heartbreak and dark humor. Frederick and his intensive-care compatriots create mock tumors, raid the hospital's chapel, and have "last words" competitions. This is an affecting, well-conceived story, and its style and themes are sure to strike a chord with readers.-Shannon Peterson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA

Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933368962
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/2008
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 4, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Jaglvr for TeensReadToo.com

    MERCURY UNDER MY TONGUE is not a book for the weak of heart. It is a powerful story told through they eyes of a seventeen-year-old boy dying of bone cancer. Frederick Langlois is in a Canadian hospital. He knows he is dying and is doing what he can to survive. <BR/><BR/>Frederick's family comes to visit, but he has little to say. Instead, he has thoughts inside his head of what he would prefer to say to them. He has gone so far as to write letters to each member of his family. His plan is to have one of the survivors on his floor mail them off on the one-year anniversary of his death. <BR/><BR/>His only solace is the poetry that he writes, but shares with no one except a fifteen-year-old leukemia patient, Marilou. The poetry shows another glimpse into Frederick's thoughts as he faces his final days. <BR/><BR/>Mr. Trudel writes a sad, moving story of a boy wanting more out of life than the hand he was dealt. Frederick shows anger, regret, love, joy, and, against his better judgment, acceptance, as his time draws nearer to the end. He rarely shares his pain of cancer with the reader, but there are snippets of the discomfort that he struggles with on a daily basis. <BR/><BR/>The story is translated from its original French but still flows beautifully and eloquently. If nothing else, Mr. Trudel's work will make you glad you are alive, and want to live the most in each day.

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