Letter by Letter


109 pages
ISBN 0-88750-450-7





Translated by David Lobdell
Reviewed by Cathy Matyas

Cathy Matyas was a librarian in Toronto.


Letter by Letter was my introduction to the work of Louise Maheux-Forcier. And what a pleasant introduction it was!

Although Maheux-Forcier has been compared to Woolf and Proust, the wit and delicate irony of her work is perhaps more reminiscent of Jane Austen. Letter by Letter is a collection of 26 short stories, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each of the elegant, carefully crafted pieces gives rise to images that are imaginative, original, and yet always believable. Consider, for example, this paragraph from “The Octopus”:

Her heart, too, must have been made of the same ceramic substance, glazed to transparency, for it was immoveable. There were moments when I dreamed of piercing it: it would have given me the greatest pleasure in those days to be able to transform myself into an arrow! At other moments, I thought it must be made of marshmallow and that a spit would have come in handy to spear that soft, sweet delicacy that Thérèse carried around in her breast, spear it and toast it over a slow fire, turning it from side to side so the flames could lick it all over, nibbling at it until it was a cinder.

As this excerpt makes clear, the stories in Letter by Letter are not without a sense of the macabre. There’s the woman in “The Carnation,” for example, who eats flowers. Or the child Maud in “Discretion,” who keeps a garter snake in a glass cage in her bedroom (though she would prefer a cobra...). Or the woman in “The Lesson,” who goes to a movie with two drunk escorts and passes the flask between them. And yet the engaging voice of the narrator controls these situations, so that the result is less black humour than an ironic and highly intelligent look at the magic just beneath the surface of our lives.


Maheux-Forcier, Louise, “Letter by Letter,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38606.