A review by abbie_
Ladivine, by Marie NDiaye

challenging dark emotional reflective slow-paced
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes
Don't you just love it when you read a book by an author you've never read before and you instantly get the urge to buy everything they've ever written? That is what I'll be doing with Marie NDiaye!
Ladivine is a sad, strange, and surreal story of three women. Ladivine is the eldest, a Black woman forging a life for herself and her daughter in France, Malinka, her daughter, and Malinka's daughter, also named Ladivine. I don't want to go any further into their dynamics because honestly it all unfolds so beautifully (albeit slowly) that I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might read it. But NDiaye takes us on a journey with these women, exploring the way trauma can be passed down through generations. I would have liked to hear more from the elder Ladivine if I'm being picky, but Malinka (or Clarisse as she rebrands herself) and the younger Ladivine's sections are enthralling.
I read a very interesting review on Goodreads, where someone had received an explanation from the translator Jordan Stump for the unusual style of the novel. (Side note: this is my thousandth plea to all publishers to allow space for a translator's note in every translated book!!) Apparently NDiaye's written French is unique, few write that way and no one speaks that way. As such, Stump occasionally renders sentences in a similarly unidiomatic English to replicate Ndiaye's unusual French. I have to say I LOVED it. You might have to read it more slowly, but eventually her sentences will work their magic on you - or not, in which case, I apologise, ha!
It starts out as a complex family drama, but as the novel progresses (feeling much longer than its 300 pages but in a good way!) things begin to take a surreal turn. An unease settled over me as I read, as strange coincidences and inexplicable events begin to unfold, as Ladivine the younger and her German husband holiday in some unspecified location. I thought it was genius that NDiaye didn't name the country, as it further lent to the fever dream feeling of it all.
It's one of those books that won't be for everyone. It's almost mesmerising in its repetition of certain motifs and phrases, and her writing is quite dense. It's just one you have to take a chance on, because if you love it then you'll really love it. As in 'putting all of NDiaye's backlist on your Christmas list' love it.

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