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
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
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
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.