Review: Remnants

Céline Huyghebaert (translated by Aleshia Jensen), 258 pgs, Book*hug Press,, $23 CDN

Céline Huyghebaert’s latest work, translated by Aleshia Jensen, explores the gap left by the death of her father. Remnants is filled with fragmented aspects of her father that she did not collect before his early passing at the age of 47 caused by cirrhosis and a tumour.

Remnants is a short work despite its 258 pages. Its content includes interviews with Huyghebaert’s family in France, where she was born before moving to Montreal in 2002, scenes akin to short stories, photos, and quotations. This melange of form informs the process of understanding the author and her father. We learn the most in the sections called “Dialogues -1, -2, -3, -4”: how her sister Christelle was her father’s caretaker in his final days, how her mother left her father for childhood beau Yann and was spared this duty, how he never told her mother he loved her.

This work is an examination of memory’s function in our lives. “Over time, narratives layer over a memory, until the original event is entirely out of reach,” Huyghebaert writes. This is shown in the “Dialogues” as the author poses the same questions to her family about her father separated by three years of time. We see how the émigré writer must attempt to capture these remnants of her father as she remembers them, all while her family moves on and, perhaps, softens their judgments. Castigations become more reflective, but Huyghebaert, out of her circumstances and her nature as a writer, cannot soldier on as easily. She must have some closure, and by the end a picture of how a family responds to death crystallizes.

In a passage discussing a more emotionally charged funeral than the one they actually had, she writes: “We would construct the image of someone who had lived life to the fullest, and it would be missing so many pieces — a mosaic of a man we’d all stopped seeing because he was hard to be around or his sadness was so grating we could no longer stand his company.”