Arsenault’s Rabelaisian fantasy is a gothic tale of the macabre and the bizarre, of black magicians and alchemists, and of the life and times of Zora Marjanna Lavanko, the daughter of a brutish tripe-dresser who dies for love. This surreal novel is set in the murky fictional domain of the Fredavian Forest, in the very real province of Karelia, then a part of the Grand Duchy of Finland, in the closing years of the nineteenth century.
Many years of work brought forth this finely rendered fantasy. While some readers might be put off by the cruelty, violence, and mayhem of text, those who persist will be rewarded with black humour and the fine display of a full range of human emotion. Rabelaisan certainly, but Zora is also inspired by the legends of the ancient Finns as well as other epic literary fantasies.
The English reader will feel the text, deftly translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel, carries overtones of Mervyn Peake. Despite this ornate style, the narrative has surprising pace, perhaps because the reader is busy trying to keep his or her jaw from hanging open.
The original French novel won the 2013 Robert-Cliche Prize, awarded to an author for a first novel (and not a first work).