Infrared – Nancy Huston

“Rena Goldblatt is a successful photographer, whose speciality is infrared images — the negative-like pictures emphasizing temperature patterns rather than conventional forms. The setting for the novel is a seven-day trip to Tuscany with her 70-year-old father and her stepmother — an excursion which turns out to be one of those ideas that are much better in the planning than in the actual experience.”

Rena is an unusual woman, and once you are introduced to her father, you can see why.

Every new detail you learn about Rena and her life is just as curious and unconventional as the last. Rena’s photographic books she compiles, all relate to sex. Children of sex workers or loved one’s of the random men she sleeps with. There is never a dull moment when Rena is around.

“Let’s deal with the conventional story line first. Rena’s father, Simon, is an unsuccessful academic, an acolyte of Timothy Leary (Rena took her first LSD trip at a very early age) who never quite acquired the focus and discipline to really achieve anything, despite grand ambitions. Her stepmother, Ingrid, is much more conventional and, on this trip, very much a stumbling Canadian tourist, not up to the grandeur of historical Florence.”

One of the things I found weird about Ingrid, was the fact that she called her husband “Dad”. This did baffle me at a couple of points during the dialogue.

“Anyone who has taken the Italian grand tour has seen a version of these multi-generational family excursions — while there is an incredible amount to see (too much, actually), the real preoccupation is where they can stop for the next meal, coffee or even just a pleasant bench and some rest. It is not a particularly dramatic story line, but Huston captures it with a touching compassion.”

I have been to Florence before, so I found their travels to be intriguing. I could imagine them walking along the Ponte Vecchio and visiting the Uffizi Gallery, and stumbling upon the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.

Rena has somewhat of an invisible friend. She knows she isn’t real, but she talks to her in her own head. Her name is Subra, and she allows Rena to recall horrible memories from her past, which gives you an image of why Rena is the way she is today. Subra is described as Rena’s “mental double” — “the imaginary older sister, who, these thirty odd years, has been sharing her opinions, laughing at her jokes …”

“Rena’s older brother, Rowan, was a sexual abuser who first attacked her before she was 10 — the abuse continued into her early teens. Accompanying her aging and declining father and a stepmother she really does not know well around the spectacles of Italy brings these childhood experiences and their result into an “infrared” focus.”

I thought it book had everything. Sex, family, love, loss and chaos. What more could you ask for in a novel?

(Source: Kevin from Canada)


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