Authors: Nancy Huston
‘Masterful; the language is direct and arresting; the story is engaging to the end.’
Globe and Mail
‘Huston succeeds in exploring the darkest of subjects with a lightness of touch.’
Sydney Morning Herald
‘Explosive in its control and ambition.’
‘Nancy Huston is a brilliant, lyrical, unforgettable writer.’ Janette Turner Hospital
‘Nancy Huston is at her best in this portrait of a troubled woman who is simultaneously an ambiguous mother, an insatiable and mature lover, and a daughter distraught at the decline of her father. A snapshot of great depth, and written in a perfectly limpid prose.’
‘An intense and sensual novel, in which unapologetic feminism never for a minute excludes the desire for men.’
‘A truly great novel. Such control, finesse and intelligence. What powerful writing and what a joy to read.’
‘There is something eminently subversive in Nancy Huston’s latest novel. If it’s only that a forty-five-year-old woman dares to talk about her sexuality, her immense desire for men. But even more,
is a staggering expression of the power of art as salvation.’
‘Nancy Huston is in top form writing about individual and collective memories, and she knows better than most how to dramatise family destinies.’
Le Monde des Livres
Nancy Huston was born in Canada and has lived in France since she was twenty. She writes in both French and English, translates her work herself, and is the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, as well as plays, children’s books and screenplays. Her novel
won the Prix Femina and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.
The Text Publishing Company
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Copyright © Nancy Huston 2011
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
Originally published in French by Editions Actes Sud, Paris 2010
This edition published by The Text Publishing Company 2011
Design by WH Chong
Typeset by J&M Typesetting
Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press
Ebook ISBN: 9781921834967
Cover image: a detail from Caravaggio’s St John the Baptist
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Author: Huston, Nancy, 1953-
Title: Infrared / Nancy Huston.
Dewey Number: 843.914
For the Djawara
‘…and suddenly the piercing pain of love, the lost look in the stranger’s eyes, expressing all that’s missing…’
‘Take my wound!
Through it, the whole world will flow into you.’
THE BROTHERS GRIMM
Rena is slanting to the right, slowly sinking farther and farther to the right on the red leather seat of the coffee shop, gradually collapsing against her stepmother’s corpulent maternal body. They’ve been up all night, and it’s been a long night indeed. Ingrid puts an arm around her and in the dawn’s uncertain light it would be difficult to say which of the two women is hanging onto the other. Though her eyes are closed, Rena is not asleep—far from it. She’s conscious of the smells of bleach and frothy milk, the bitter taste of tobacco in her throat, the soft touch of Ingrid’s blouse against her cheek, all the reassuring noises in the café—spoons clinking, doors opening and shutting, to say nothing of the numerous overlapping voices, businessmen in a hurry to down a last
before boarding the train for Rome, a drunkard ordering his first beer of the day, loud-speaker announcements about arrivals and departures, the chatter of waitresses. I sink therefore I am, Rena says to herself, or rather, I’m sinking towards the right therefore I am in Italy, in italics, all my thoughts are in italics, insisting, repeating, recriminating, accusing, screaming at me,
How is it possible? You claim to be an ultrasensitive film and yet you saw nothing, noticed nothing, detected nothing, guessed at nothing, comprehended nothing?
No, because—not that, you understand, breast yes skin yes stomach yes bronchia yes mediastinum yes, since 1936 infrared photography has been used in all those areas but not in this one not in this one no, no, not at all.
‘I’ll go anywhere.’
‘So you’re the last Greenblatt,’ grunts the proprietor of the Hotel Guelfa, in Italian, without looking at her, glancing sullenly instead at the photo in her passport. ‘Your parents arrived late last night,’ he adds—repeating, in a tone heavily laced with reproach, ‘Very late.’
Rena doesn’t correct him, doesn’t explain that they’re not her parents, or rather that one is and that the other isn’t; having not the slightest wish to open that can of worms, that Pandora’s box, that raft of the Medusa, she holds her tongue in Italian, smiles in Italian, nods in Italian, and strives to radiate the serenity to which she ardently aspires. The truth is that she’s been dreading this moment for weeks.
‘I know it’s absurd,’ she murmured to Aziz only a few hours ago as they nosed through the thick fog which for some mysterious reason seems to shroud Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in all seasons and at all hours. ‘My trip hasn’t even started yet, and already I feel guilty.’
‘Hey, the lady exaggerates,’ said Aziz teasingly, even as he stroked her left thigh. ‘Not only is she treating herself to a week’s holiday in Tuscany, but she wants us to feel sorry for her.’
Standing next to the car at the drop-off point, she kissed her man lingeringly. ‘Goodbye, love…We’ll talk every day, won’t we?’
‘You bet.’ Aziz took her in his arms and gave her a mighty hug. Then, stepping back, looking into her eyes: ‘You do look a bit wasted this morning, but I’m not worried. You’re armed to the teeth—you’ll survive.’
Aziz knows her well. Knows she’s planned to keep Simon and Ingrid at a distance by aiming, framing, firing at them with her Canon. ‘You’ll survive,’ he repeated as he climbed back into the car. She leaned down to drown herself in his dark eyes one more
time—and then, by way of farewell, slowly drew her index finger along his lower lip.
They’d made love this morning before the alarm clock went off and she’d wanted him to come on her face, it was such a powerful sensation to be holding his sex with both her hands and suddenly feel the semen spurting through, when it had splashed out warm and marvellous she’d spread it over her face and neck and breasts like an elixir of youth, feeling it cool as it dried…Washing this morning, she’d purposely left a bit of her lover’s invisible trace beneath her jaw, at the top of her neck—like a thin, translucid mask to protect her, see her through the impending trial…
The man hands her a key and informs her, still grumpily and in Italian, that Room 25 is on the second floor, by which he means the third floor, at the far end of the corridor.
What he doesn’t tell her is that the room is in fact the same thing as the corridor; they’ve simply put up a door and built a tiny shower stall in one corner. Rena sees at once that she mustn’t leave anything on the sink, because the sink will be taking its shower at the same time as she does. The room is long and narrow—well, narrow, anyhow—and its window gives onto a charming little garden in the back: flowers, climbing vines, red-tiled roofs. She takes a deep breath. You see? she says inwardly to Subra, the special Friend who accompanies her wherever she goes. It is Florence. I mean, there is beauty.
And why on earth would you feel guilty? Subra asks her. I mean, you’re not Beatrice Cenci or anything.
True, Rena nods. In the first place, I wasn’t born into an aristocratic family in Rome in the sixteenth century. In the second place, I’m not twenty-one years old. My forty-five-year-old father didn’t lock me up in his
in the Abruzzi with his second wife Lucrezia,
to humiliate and brutalise us. He didn’t try to rape me. I didn’t plan his murder with the help of my brother and stepmother. I didn’t hire professional killers, instruct them to drive an iron peg into his right eye and personally oversee the crime. I didn’t go on to push his dead body over the edge of the cliff. I wasn’t arrested, brought to trial, and condemned to death. My head didn’t get chopped off in 1599 near the Ponte Sant’Angelo on the Tiber. No, no, the whole situation is different—this is Florence, not Rome, my stepmother loves my father, I’m the one who’s forty-five, my head is sitting squarely on my shoulders…and everyone is innocent.