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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Mister Blue

Jacques Poulin

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To purchase Mister Blue

Title: Mister Blue
Author: Jacques Poulin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 174 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Mister Blue - US
Mister Blue - UK
Mister Blue - Canada
Le vieux Chagrin - Canada
Mister Blue - India
Le vieux Chagrin - France
  • French title: Le vieux Chagrin
  • Translated by Sheila Fischman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : simple but effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Mister Blue is narrated by an author, Jim. He used to be a professor, a Hemingway specialist, but gave that up and now lives, and writes fiction, in a rickety house by the bay in Cap-Rouge (part of Quebec City). His wife abandoned him, and while he occasionally gets together with his brother for a game of tennis, he lives a fairly isolated life. Some stray cats (including the Mr.Blue of the title) do make themselves at home here -- "the whole house seemed to have been taken over by stray cats", he notes at one point -- but it's another stray that becomes the most significant presence in the house.
       Mister Blue is a novel of cat-like presences -- creatures who are unseen for days, appearing and disappearing as it pleases them, and certainly not under Jim's control. A significant presence for Jim is the most elusive of all: in a cave by the beach he come across some traces of a human presence, including a copy of The Arabian Nights. The owner is identified on the flyleaf only as Marie K. -- leading him to refer to her as Marika -- and she becomes something of an obsession to him. The cave-locale is no coincidence: Marika is like the Platonic shadow for Jim, allowing him only to imagine the reality behind it -- as, indeed, Marika remains very elusive and out of reach. Not one to impose, Jim visits her cave and leaves her messages, among other things, but doesn't force an encounter.
       He gets a new neighbor, Bungalow, who opens up "an official shelter for women in distress", the Girls' House, and one of the girls, called La Petite, becomes a cat-like presence in his house, making herself comfortable there (including curling herself up in her younger brother's old crib, thumb in her mouth). As Jim comes to realize, both he and La Petite are damaged souls -- the adopted and abused girl ("I'm like an alley cat that everybody's mistreated", she tells him) having gone through something much more horrific, but nevertheless in many ways in a similar state as Jim:

La Petite and I had several things in common. And the most important of those common points, at least the one that brought me closest to her, was perhaps this: most of the time we were, both of us, walled up inside ourselves and busy trying to stick back together the fragments of our past.
       Much as Jim is obsessed with Marika, so La Petite's grail is to find her birth-parents; of course, along the way they find they've found each other, the much more real and helpful human companionship than either of their supposed ideals can offer.
       Jim's other major preoccupation is his writing -- which often is more pre- than actual occupation, as he struggles to write his story. He admits he's an author who allows: "instinct or intuition to be my guide", and he does very much go with the flow here, his story shifting shape as he progresses ever so slowly.
       The elements here -- a writer writing about writing; a waif in need of human kindness; an idealized but elusive female figure -- can easily have the makings of a horrible book in the wrong hands, but Poulin handles the material well. If also an instinctive author (it's hard not to see him as Jim), Poulin has a simple, sure touch -- knowing how far to step back, and how deep to delve in (not too deep, most of the time, fortunately). The short, titled chapters in which he presents the story are like small, flat steps, and Poulin never gets ahead of himself or tries to do too much. The story progresses gently and, like both Jim and La Petite, almost cautiously. If also almost bare -- Jim's life isn't event-filled; quiet contemplation and (not) writing occupies most of his time -- it nevertheless is ultimately a satisfyingly full novel, despite being very short.
       Simple but effective -- and quite touching without sinking into the maudlin -- Mister Blue is a nice little piece of work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 February 2013

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Mister Blue: Reviews: Other books by Jacques Poulin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French-Canadian author Jacques Poulin was born in 1937.

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© 2013-2022 the complete review

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