Mercury Under My Tongue by Sylvain Trudel

Posted November 11, 2013 by shooting in Uncategorized / 14 Comments

Mercury Under My Tongue by Sylvain Trudel, translated by Sheila Fischman

Review by Lauren

copy for review; all opinions are my own

Official Summary: Frederick Langlois could be that geeky 17-year-old found in every high school —
the one who closely clutches his poem-filled notebook, who feels a bit too
deeply, who’s just a little too old for his years. But Frederick isn’t in high
school. He’s in a hospital ward with other critically ill adolescents, dying of
bone cancer. “Mercury Under the Tongue” chronicles his short stay there, from
his distant but friendly relationship with his therapist through comic moments
in the ward and his emergent friendships with other teenage patients. Some
survive, others are lost, and at the end, Frederick must make a final reckoning
with himself and his family, one that is at once dispassionate and deeply felt.

Review: While not a long book, Mercury Under My Tongue contains a lot of deep thoughts and questions about life, which sometimes makes it a difficult book to get through.

Personally, I love books that are translated from another language. This book comes from Canadian author, Sylvain Trudel, who lives in Montreal. Sheila Fischman translated it from the original French-Canadian to the English I read it in. Despite it being a foreign novel, it doesn’t deal too much with the location. Frederick is dying of bone cancer, so therefore, the entire book takes place in the hospital. He interacts with family who visit (but no friends because he does not want them to see him like this), a therapist, and most importantly, the other children who come to the ward.

One of the saddest parts of this book is that not all of the kids stay on the ward. For Frederick, there is no hope. He is dying and he knows that day will come. Some of the other people that share his ward, or even his room, are not as dire. They find ways to help them get better and allow them to live, to continue to grow older and live life. Things like this seem to be the reason that Frederick writes poetry. He is expressing his thoughts, his anger, his sadness, in these short lines.

A poem that I really liked and thought I’d share-

is anywhere at all,
between the tip of a nose and the end of the world;
and soon,
is any time at all,
between now and the night.
-pg. 10

These type of poems are included throughout the book, and I liked a lot of them. They make you think about your own life, which is great.

However, my main problem with the book is that it does read slow sometimes. Like I said in the beginning, it’s not a very long book. But the entire book deals with Frederick slowly dying, and therefore, the book seems to mimic the process. Nothing moves too quickly; time seems to be in limbo. I don’t know if it was intentional on the author’s part or not, but it seems to fit the overall story.

While I do wish the book would move quicker in places, I did find this to be an interesting look at a teenager who knows his life has a limit, and that it’s coming soon.

14 responses to “Mercury Under My Tongue by Sylvain Trudel

  1. This does sound interesting. And sad. But good. I think the slowness would bother me since I have trouble with having patience, but otherwise it sounds great!

  2. Though not adverse to books that have been translated I do worry that they are not always well done, that sometimes things can be lost in the translation. This sounds good though, thanks for the recommendation.

  3. This is the first time I hear that Canadian book is been translated. I mean it's logical because they used French-Canadian, but I wan't familiar with that. This one sounds interesting and it deals with some serious topics. Great review, Mag 🙂

  4. Woah, this would be so depressing! I don't think I've ever read a novel in which the main character is dying slowly of a disease. Actually, I don't think I've ever read a book that has been translated from a different language either. But there's a first time for everything!

  5. This sounds like it could be a very depressing story, but there seems to be a lot of beauty in the story too. I love that poem you shared. I am curious to give this a try! Thanks for your lovely review 🙂

  6. Wonderful review, Lauren. I don't think I could read this. I'd be a sobbing mess at the end. Just reading your review breaks my heart. Life is so unfair. 🙁

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