Jos Connaissant: A Novel

Description

171 pages
$9.95
ISBN 0-920428-45-2

Publisher

Year

1982

Contributor

Translated by Ray Chamberlain
Reviewed by Elizabeth Stieg

Elizabeth Stieg taught English in Toronto.

Review

Victor-Levy Beaulieu’s novel, Jos Connaissant, is a profound and often agonizing exploration of the nature of exile and alienation. Its narrator, whose struggle with death, despair, and madness the novel chronicles, is, in Colin Wilson’s phrase, an Outsider. The significance of his exile from the nurturing affection of his mother encompasses his loss of the beauty and simplicity of his childhood in the country and his descent into the ugly stench of Morial Mort.

At the core of Jos’s affliction is his loss of faith. He is filled with disgust by the people he encounters (“Are all the people in the whole world as insignificant, and doesn’t anybody care about saving his soul any more?”) but more important is his disgust with himself and his life:

A poor, sorry life. Old worn-out formulas that I keep using for fear of coming face to face with my own emptiness and the emptiness of everything around me, and I don’t want to die, I cling to my life because it leaves me feeling too hopeless for me not to try to do something with it. You’ve got to be patient with yourself, learn to use your own insipidity to overcome the madness of a life that lacks purpose.

Inextricably linked with this sense of spiritual impotence is the terrible fear of sexual impotence. Haunted by the childhood memory of a rooster’s assault on his penis, Jos is paralyzed in his efforts at sexual initiation. In an early passage, he fantasizes about violent intercourse as a vehicle for liberation through the loss of self, but this escape is denied him and he turns instead to beer. Finding that drunkenness is an inadequate refuge from a mad world “with no hope for the future,” Jos is left with meditation and the journey inward through his past to the ground of his being. “The man who is interested to know how he should live instead of merely taking life as it comes,” writes Colin Wilson, “is automatically an Outsider.”

Turning from the mother to the whore, Jos confronts the death and impotence he feared and finds in it the imaginative strength to envision a new creation: the world remaking itself. The novel concludes with the Faulkneresque death and burial of Jos’s mother and his systematic destruction of the vestiges of his old self. He asks: “What metamorphosis would be mine now that my childhood was over, now that the present was beginning?” Underneath the old masks of childhood, pity, and disease which he has destroyed lies a new mask, that of the Sorcerer of Longue-Point, the identity behind which he will live out his life. Jos has formed a new and stronger persona — but the essential “I” remains hidden behind a disguise.

Ray Chamberlain’s fine translation makes available to English readers a powerful exploration of man’s struggle to come to terms with himself in a hostile and faithless world.

Citation

Beaulieu, Victor-Levy, “Jos Connaissant: A Novel,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38427.