White Out

Martine Delvaux

Katia Grubisic

September 2018

WHITE OUT is at first glance a woman’s invention, over and over again, of the man who chose not to be her father, leaving his young lover pregnant. Yet, arcing from late-1960s Quebec to the present, it is also the story of a young woman, and a generation of young women, caught between Catholicism and free love. Martine Delvaux’s aching take on her own origin story is a book about words lost in a lifetime of storms, about truth and fiction, a book about how something as seemingly commonplace as parentage can undermine everything—confidence, relationships, the body, memory. Through narrative we try to patch our unknowns but narrative, at once foreign and familiar, fails us.

MARTINE DELVAUX was born in Quebec City and lives in Montreal. After Bitter Rose and The Last Bullet Is For You, White Out is the third of her five novels published in English translation by LLP. Delvaux teaches women’s studies at Université du Québec à Montréal. Blanc dehors, the original French novel now translated into English as White Out, was shortlisted for a 2016 Governor General’s Award for fiction.

KATIA GRUBISIC is a writer, editor, and translator. She was coordinator of the Atwater Poetry Project reading series, and was a founding member of the editorial board for the Icehouse Poetry imprint at Goose Lane Editions. Her own work has appeared in various Canadian and international publications. She has been a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for translation, and her collection of poems What if red ran out won the Gerald Lampert award for best first book. Her translation of A Cemetery for Bees was a finalist for the Governor General Literary Awards in 2021.

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What they say
A note on the translation
Patricia Godbout, University of Toronto Press

2018 offre une bonne récolte de romans québécois traduits vers l’anglais. Des auteurs bien connus ont notamment vu une de leurs œuvres récentes publiées en traduction anglaise.

La maison Linda Leith Publishing est aussi à l’affût de textes d’écrivains québécois, notamment ceux de Martine Delvaux. La traductrice Katia Grubisic y signe la version anglaise de Blanc dehors (Éditions Héliotrope, 2016), sous le titre White Out. La prose de Delvaux est très fluide pour raconter son histoire, celle d’une femme qui n’a jamais connu son père, ce dernier ayant choisi de se volatiliser après avoir mis sa mère enceinte en 1968. La prose de Delvaux est très bien rendue en anglais, bien que la ponctuation soit plus marquée en traduction que dans la version originale, comme dans l’extrait suivant, d’abord en langue française :

Ces scènes [de sa naissance et de son baptême], on ne me les a jamais vraiment racontées, elles ont la forme de phrases toutes faites, quelques mots collés ensemble pour faire image et dire d’un coup le rejet en ne révélant rien de ce qui s’est vraiment passé, les mots qui ont été prononcés pour exclure la mère et son bébé, rien sur le temps qu’il faisait ou les vêtements qu’on portait, rien sur le ton de la voix, les cris et les soupirs, les poings brandis, les bras levés au ciel, les dos tournés, rien sur ce qui restait une fois tout le monde parti, rien non plus sur ce qui restait de sa mise au ban une fois le retour en grâce.

Et dans la traduction de Grubisic:

No one’s ever really told me those stories, they’re just ready-made sentences, words glued together into a sequence until the finale of rejection, without telling the story of what actually happened. Nothing about what was said to exclude mother and child, nothing about the weather, the clothes they wore, the tone of voice, the shouts and sighs, fists shaken, arms raised to the heavens, backs turned. Nothing about what was left once everyone had gone, nothing about what traces of her banishment remained once she was returned to grace.

March 2021, University of Toronto Quarterly

"A howl from the guts"
M. Bijman, Seven Circumstances

Before you read White Out it is best that you know that this book is written somewhat in the style of a prose poem. The form and style reminded me of the famous prose poem by Canadian author Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. One thing is certain though: – Delvaux has more words and expressions for describing a father, and not having a father and all the emotions that come with having father-abandonment issues, than any writer I have ever come across. The entire book, all 137 pages of it, is one extended, anguished, howl of misery from the very guts of the first person narrator.

The translator from the French, Katia Grubisic, must’ve had her work cut out for her (but luckily she is also a poet).
Read more.
April 2019, Seven Circumstances

January page-turner pick from CBC
Richard King

The novel White Out by Martine Delvaux is a translation of Blanc dehors which was shortlisted for the Governor General's award for Fiction in 2016. The novel is beautifully translated by Katia Grubisic. White Out tells the story of an orphaned woman who grew up in Québec in the 1960s, a time of fundamental change in the province. The unnamed narrator tells her story with great power and passion.
CBC Books, January 2018

The Q&Q Preview
Steven Beatty

Martine Delvaux delves into her own family history to interrogate the life of a man who abandons his pregnant young lover, leaving the unborn child effectively fatherless. This personal story also becomes, in Delvaux’s hands, a social history of Quebec from the 1960s through to the present.
August 2018, Quill and Quire

Filling in the blanks
Danielle Barklay

"Martine Delvaux’s White Out is an origin story and a family history. However, as the title indicates, it is a narrative dominated by blankness, where absence matters as much as presence. The absence of the narrator’s father functions as a central void, which threatens to consume anything that is solid and tangible about her life. The text is, by necessity, a story without a climax or resolution; it is driven less by plot than by a series of meditations and unanswered questions. Nonetheless, the compulsive energy of the language, translated into English by Katia Grubisic, is such that it hits the reader like an avalanche or a blinding blizzard. There is little to grasp on to, but the reading experience is consuming."
Read more.   
Summer 2018, Montreal Review of Books


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