Cover image for The little girl who was too fond of matches : a novel
The little girl who was too fond of matches : a novel
Soucy, Gaétan, 1958-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes. English
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Arcade Pub. : Distributed by Time Warner Trade Pub., 2001.

Physical Description:
138 pages ; 23 cm
General Note:
English translation previously published: Toronto : House of Anansi Press, 2000.
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Alone with their authoritarian father on a vast estate where time has stopped, two siblings speak a language and inhabit a surreal universe of their own making, shaped by their reading of philosophy and tales of chivalry. When their father dies and the children set out to bury him, they encounter the inhabitants of the neighboring village, and the pair's cloak of romance and superstition falls away to reveal the appalling truth of their existence. A brilliant, masterful story in which nothing is as it first seems, "The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches" is a triumph of suspense, linguistic invention, and playfulness that peers into the heart of guilt, cruelty, and violence.

Author Notes

Gaétan Soucy was born in Montreal, Quebec on October 21, 1958. He studied physics at Université de Montréal, completed a Master's degree in philosophy, and studied Japanese language and literature at McGill University. His first novel, L'Immaculee Conception (The Immaculate Conception), was nominated for the 2006 Giller Prize. His other works include L'Acquittement (Atonement), La Petite Fille Qui Aimait Trop les Allumettes (The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches) and Music-Hall! (Vaudeville!). He taught philosophy at a college near Montreal. He died of a heart attack on July 9, 2013 at the age of 54.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Reality is mutable and idiosyncratic in this nearly stream-of-consciousness narrative. Two children, one of them the narrator, find their father dead one morning, frozen in a strange position. They argue for a while, finally agreeing that one of them has to go to the village to buy a grave-box for Papa. The narrator makes the terrifying trek to the village, leaving the other to guard the body. Their subsequent encounter with the outside world, previously unknown to them, is a "mess of pronouns" that shatters the siblings' reality, which is founded upon chivalric romance and Spinoza's philosophy, and reveals something tortuous and awful. Offered from the viewpoint of someone living in a world almost unrecognizable to the outsider, the story is a riddle. Nevertheless, the enigmas of the text have a certain surreal beauty and are fantastic in their horror, which is not necessarily understood as such, except by the reader who realizes just how out-of-the-ordinary the life being reported is. --Regina Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

When it appeared in 1998, Soucy's work received critical raves and was the first novel published in Quebec ever to be nominated for France's celebrated Prix Renaudot. Magic realist in tone, the novel chronicles the story of two brothers who grow up isolated from and largely ignorant of the world outside their father's massive estate, save for information gleaned from books and fairy tales. After their father dies, the boys must confront their surroundings, both familiar and unfamiliar; encounters with the inhabitants of the neighboring village rapidly and cruelly strip away their innocence. Occasionally, Soucy's colorful prose captivates, but more frequently the convoluted nature of the narrative befuddles and keeps the reader from following the course of events. A good deal of the writing is stilted and perplexing, as the narrator's frame of reference consists mainly of imagined objects and perspectives born solely of books, and therefore (understandably) divorced from reality. To be sure, such a style reflects Soucy's creativity and inventiveness, and his writing abounds with expressive flights of fancy. Unfortunately, the cumulative effect is to keep the reader at arm's length, and to weaken the force of Soucy's innovative storytelling. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Originally published in Canada and nominated for France's Prix Renaudot, The Little Girl is now ready to seduce and disturb American readers. The story concerns two young siblings who have been raised in isolation by their father. They speak a language gleaned from the Bible, tales of chivalry, and Spinoza's Ethics, and live in their own odd world of superstition and (inescapably naive and incorrect) supposition. When they wake one day to find their father dead, the recorder of the tale or, as she calls herself, the "secretarious," ventures for the first time into the nearby village to purchase a coffin. Contact with the villagers speedily unravels the bizarre truth of her and her brother's existence, and they must choose between adapting to the horror of the real world or shutting out knowledge that contradicts every foundation on which they have built their lives. Told in the siblings' language and in their achingly limited point of view, Little Girl is a novel of suspense in which the tension creeps deliciously slowly over readers. If V. C. Andrews and capital-L Literature had a brainchild, this would be it. Simultaneously chilling and enchanting, this is a perfect choice for teens who prefer being scared intelligently and lastingly.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



New Introduction by Rumi Hage for 2016 Edition Gaétan Soucy's novel The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is a thoughtful reflection on the savagery of the universe and the particularities of local history. The novel is a deceptively grand yet concise allegory about the Quebec question and offers a rich, deep depiction of a nation, a family, and a tribe through an elaborate series of metaphors. It is also a tragic mythology and a lamentation of man's fatal place in the world. On the discovery of the dead body of their authoritative father, the lives of a pair of siblings living an isolated existence on an estate are thrown into disarray. The little girl, who refers to herself in the masculine in the first part of the book, is forced to leave the estate for the first time in order to find a coffin. The boy, a brute and a victim of his father's violence, stays behind with the corpse. "On our own we could scarcely hesitate, exist, fear, suffer" the girl says to herself. These words are the assertion of a submissive religiosity, in a physiological and religious sense, in the face of the power of the father. It's the tyranny of the father that eclipses normality, and leads the characters into a state of dependence, fear, and suffering. This patriarchal authority, which is modelled on the authority of the church and its historical grip on Québécois society, imbues the depiction of the father. The father's life unfolds in the narrative through the girl's idiosyncratic language -- a language that is the result of a long seclusion and boundaries enforced by an imaginary demarcation. The father locks himself in a closed chamber and cries over the mummified bodies of his dead wife and his other daughter. The father's masochism, as witnessed by his children who are forced to participate by flogging him with "a wet towel" blurs the boundaries between sexuality and Christianity, pleasure and punishment, remorse and violence. The novel moves the reader through a conflicted existence that swings between the aspiration for transcendence and the perceived necessity for confinement and isolation. The little contact that the family has had with the "other" remains mysterious, distant, and pathological. The "others" appear in the forms of a beggar, the sound of distant bells, and the books that the girl reads from her father's library. The books are referred to as dictionaries, and learning is experienced as a series of rules and definitions not an exchange of ideas or points of view. The books in the library are philosophically hefty, from Spinoza's Ethics to the Lives of the Saints and books about Japan where the father once served as a soldier. Nevertheless, the girl's voracious reading does not prepare her for her first and only encounter with the villagers, which ends up being an experience of alienation, mépris, and incomprehension. In the village, the encounter with a mining inspector was an experience of love and sexual attraction. Suddenly, the elsewhere is revealed as a place of seduction and danger. The villagers were invaders that had to be stopped from taking over the farm. In the second and last part of the book, the narrator assumes and acknowledges her gender. The narration changes from the masculine to the feminine. The reference to imaginary testicles that was so often mentioned vanishes, and later, she contemplates her growing belly. With this comes the glimpse of liberation -- the triumph of women from the oppression of patriarchy and theocracy. It would be a mistake to reduce this book to a simple metaphor of un peuple, The little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is a masterpiece by virtue of its capacity to go beyond a nation's history. Ultimately, it's about the fate and the tragedy of being human. As bleak as this book seems, there is an acknowledgement of man's capacity to find ways to escape an existence of entrapment. With the prospect of a new life, the girl constructs a mental image of a future with children of her own on another estate. This time the world is wider -- a pantheistic universe not in opposition to the elsewhere, the vast elsewhere, but part of it, or what Spinoza refers to as the "Being." Excerpted from The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Gaétan Soucy All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.