Published December 1st 2016 by Noir Press (first published January 31st 2010)
Author: Laura Sintija Černiauskaitė
Translated from Lithuanian by Marija Marcinkute
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“He was walking.”
When Isabel decides to adopt the troubled young orphan, Ilya, she has no idea of the trauma that is about to be unleashed upon her family. Taking him back home to their cottage in the country, his dark presence unsettles the family and resurrects the ghosts of Isabel’s past.
Breathing into Marble is a dark and poetic story of love, family, deception and death.
It won the 2009 EU Prize for Literature
The premise of this book inrigued me, as I wondered what kind of character this orphan Ilya would be. I began reading the book and only had to read a few pages before I recognised that the prose itself had an unsettling feel about it.
We are thrown into the narrative at a time, place and situation that becomes significant later on, but that intitial opening chapter ‘The Fox’s Den’ was what gripped me and urged me to keep reading. It’s one of the best opening chapters I’ve read in a while, and it’s not afraid to experiment with form.
It is in the next chapter that we meet Ilya in the orphan’s home, and the narrative that we expect starts to unfold. The writer and translater have done a good job of putting the reader in the mind of the character Isabel, whilst still keeping her separate.
The character of Ilya is strange from the start, and after having read the whole book I feel he is still a mystery to me, and although I want to know his background, his history and for there to be some kind of Agatha Christie style summing up of events and backgrounds, the book does better to keep the mystery.
However, although I read the book with full attention, this mysterious element leaves me feeling like I’ve missed something. Sometimes when books have these chapters that take us out of the timeline we’re following, and transpirt to another place and time, it can be confusing…and I found myself being slightly confised at times.
For example, in one chapter I came across a word I didn’t know. The word was ‘parturition’, so I asked my friend next to me what it meant. He got out his old, beaten and battered dictionary and looked up the word. While he was doing that I gave him some context by reading the rest of the sentence (which he thought was brilliant), and explaining where we were in the plot, and what the scene was.
“With the click of a lock springing open, she felt then, with the pure force of parturition, that she could strangle him.”
Once I began reading on, I got the feeling that my explaination of what was going on was actually incorrect, and this was down to confusion over the scene and its place in the larger narrative. I’m sure if I read the book again I would understand it better, and it may have just been my inability during the time I read the book to understand a plot written in this way.
I enjoyed the story, the mystery, and Ilya is still a fascinating character but I’m still trying to work out the significance of the ‘fox’ theme. At one point I thought Ilya was a fox in human form, and I still quite like that idea.
Overall, a beautifully written book, full of mystery, curiosity, poetic sentences and family drama/trauma. Do read it, because if nothing else it’ll get you wondering…
Link to the book on Goodreads: Breathing into Marble