How does a child grow up to become a murderer?
When the unnamed narrator of Adeline Dieudonné’s Real Life and her six-year-old brother Sam witness a horrific accident involving a local ice cream truck, their lives are thrown drastically off course. Sam, who was once a shining, happy child whose sister loves to make him laugh, taps into an inner darkness. Further fuelled by his father’s violent temperament and fondness for hunting, Sam falls deeper under what his sister thinks of as some sort of evil spell.
His sister, adopting a kind of magical thinking, decides that in order to save Sam she will simply build a time machine and go back to before the accident, preventing her brother from ever witnessing it in the first place.
While it deals with some horrific themes and questions of violence, Real Life is also engrossing, poetic and darkly funny. Author Adeline Dieudonné raises questions about the effects of violence on the young, the ways that we deal with trauma, and patterns of abuse. Another strand of the novel shows the developing relationship between the narrator and her mother, who initially is described disdainfully as little more than an ‘amoeba’ but takes on new, more protective forms as the girl’s father becomes increasingly more abusive and her brother begins to follow in his footsteps.
Real Life is a fierce debut – a story of love, trauma and survival that transforms the coming-of-age story into something else entirely; dark and disturbing, but ultimately hopeful.
Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné, trans. by Roland Glasser is available 13th February 2020 from World Editions
(9781912987016, p/b, £11.99)
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