Family secrets and rivalry at the heart of Véronique Ovaldé’s new novel
In “The Angry Girl on the Stone Bench” a young woman returns to the imaginary island off the coast of Sicily where she grew up. Family secrets, rivalries between sisters, restrained but fighting girls, in her new novel Véronique Ovaldé deals with all the topics that have been dear to her for twenty years.
“The girls’ anger was always present. Now it has become something extremely visible, but I was very angry for a very long time,” explains Véronique Ovaldé for RTS.
In power. Since his first novel more than twenty years ago, “Dream of a Fish”, his female characters have formed a large family, girls always at odds, forced to escape from a suffocating environment that could break them, overtaken one day or another by a sister or mother.
Persistent, silent and brave girls, who encountered violence very early on, about which they remain silent. It could have been autofiction or autobiography, but Ovaldé preferred to turn to fiction, constructing subtly constructed texts, imagining complex family stories, which are never completely different without being completely identical.
Thus, over the years, she developed an extremely personal romantic art, completely unique in the literary landscape of the French-speaking world. Each time, the author examines a thousand and one traps that will cross a woman’s life path and allows the reader to measure the strength that will be needed for the heroine to manage to escape from family expectations and live her own life.
Aida, Violetta and the missing sister
Here, the angry girl is called Aïda. A young thirty-year-old woman is preparing a pasta dish in her kitchen in Palermo when her sister Violetta, whom she has not seen for fifteen years, calls her. Their father is dead, Violetta announces. Aïda then decides to return to Iazza, the small island where she grew up and where her mother and sisters still live.
This surprising novel, over which hovers the ghost of a girl who disappeared too soon, deals with a variety of very contemporary themes. Emotion often surprises at the turn of the page, and Ovaldé listens with great finesse to the reactions of the characters, the sisters reunited after a long separation, the mother who is now a widow, in a family where the roles were assigned very early on and where Aïda has always carried the guilt of missing little sisters.
The islands are very inspiring, a bit like a family. It is something protective, and at the same time very closed. Like the family, which is the territory of tragedy, completely inexhaustible dramaturgy, the island is something of that order.
As in “What I Know About Vera Candida”, “The Grace of a Robber” or “The Lives of the Birds”, Véronique Ovaldé has set the action of her novel in an imaginary and yet believable place. Because the author knows how to play with the spirit of the place, without falling into caricature, and create a space that every reader can appropriate. His windy island of Iazza, somewhere off the coast of Sicily, is current and legendary. Real estate developers clash there, you swim in chalk-white streams, but donkeys sometimes fall off roofs and women dream omens.
In any case, it is a remote place, inhabited by an isolated and withdrawn population who brood over their grievances and lost loves. Here the Salvatore girls grew up, under the thumb of their father whose death suddenly disrupted the family order that seemed immutable.
Only Aida remains on the terrace. He leans on the balustrade to smoke a cigarette. It’s surprising that she didn’t want to jump on all of them, isn’t it? Especially that of Violetta and Gilda. For so long she thought it would be dangerous for her to return to Iazza, to face the life her sisters led without her, away from her, against her. Is it possible that his heart will calm down?
A novel in three stages
It remains a very ingenious construction of the story, which undoubtedly represents one of the most interesting aspects of Ovaldé’s writing: his ability to structure his texts, to fit narrative elements, to only moderately reveal clues that form a bit of a puzzle.
Here the novel begins with a traumatic scene, the disappearance of the youngest Mimi. The novel then revolves around three different temporalities: the present, with Aïda’s return to Iazza and the upheaval her arrival causes; the sisters’ childhood, in which many secrets are hidden; and “stories and legends of the Salvatore family,” a sort of origin mythology. The result of this skillfully orchestrated non-linearity is a novel that does not let go, where each mystery covers another, and the secondary characters, especially the men, turn out to be much richer than expected.
Véronique Ovaldé, “The angry girl on the stone bench”, arr. Flammarion.
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