Suddenly the Minotaur

By (author): Marie Hélène Poitras

Translated by: Patricia Claxton


Marie Hélène Poitras

Marie Hélène Poitras is a leader among the new generation of Quebec writers. She won the prestigious Prix Anne-Hébert in 2003 for her first novel, Soudain le Minotaure, the original French version of this book. In 2006 she published a collection of short stories, La Mort de Mignonne et autres histoires. She is a journalist in the cultural field in general and music editor for the Montreal entertainment weekly Voir. She lives in Montreal.


Patricia Claxton

Patricia Claxton is one of Canada’s most respected French-to-English translators, who has translated more than 20 books and countless articles, essays, short stories and poems. She is perhaps most well known for her connection with Gabrielle Roy. In 1987, Patricia was presented with the Governor General’s Award for her translation of Roy’s posthumous autobiography and in 1999, she was honoured with a second Governor General’s Award for her translation of Gabrielle Roy, a Life, by François Ricard. Her translation of Ronald Lavallée’s Tchipayuk: Or, The Way of the Wolf is available from Talonbooks.


Suddenly the Minotaur by Marie Hlne Poitras is composed of two first-person narratives. In the first, a young serial rapist called MinoTorres thinks back over his crimes in Guatemala and Montreal and fantasizes about his victims as he serves time in a Penetanguishene prison in Ontario. In the second, Ariane, a woman whom he knifed in an attempted rape, recounts the event, and her struggle to recover from the trauma through a journey to Dachau. In her short Translator’s Note, Patricia Claxton identifies the particular difficulties posed by the translation. Not surprisingly, as she notes, finding the right voice and register for the rapist is problematic. She is kind enough not to point out that the original itself is in delicate waters on this point, offering a text in fluent – even at times poetic – French, with a sprinkling of Spanish, for a relatively uneducated character for whom French is a recently acquired second language. Claxton uses her considerable experience as a literary translator to navigate the challenge. The shifts between the more literary and the more brutal elements are not always perfectly seamless (nor are they in the original), but through her choices of concrete and idiomatic formulations Claxton succeeds remarkably in translating forcefully the unrepentant brutality of the rapist. Ariane’s alternation between the narration of the attempted rape and her trip to Dachau is an uneasy juxtaposition, but Claxton’s translation is accurate and economical, audacious in its directness. When Ariane looks out over the red-light district of Hamburg from a tower, the French is to the point: Hambourg s’tendait devant moi, les jambes ouvertes. D’une tour, j’apercevais les nons des sex-shops, veills les uns aprs les autres par le dclin du soleil … Six glises certaines aux clochers tronqus par les bombardements de la guerre, se dressaient comme autant de sexes en veil … Depuis le 4 novembre prcdent, je pressentais des signes de trop-plein de dsir partout o je posais les yeux. Claxton makes a number of small lexical adjustments to keep her text English, re-establishes the appropriate verb tenses and aspect, but makes no compromises in the narrator’s underlying emotion. There are no attempts here to soften unduly or dissimulate any hard angles. The words are straight to the point: Hamburg lay before me, legs spread. From a tower, I saw the sex-shop neon signs light up one by one as the sun went down … Six church steeples, some truncated by wartime bombings, rose like so many phalluses at the ready … Since the preceding November 4, I had been getting early-warning signs of desire overflow everywhere I looked. — University of Toronto Quarterly, Winter 2008


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162 Pages
8.5in * 5.5in * 1in


November 15, 2006

Country of Publication:



DC Books



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FICTION / Literary

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