Literature that makes me uncomfortable holds a special place in my heart. This year I’ve been lucky enough to read two books that have dug their way underneath my skin and stuck with me like angry chiggers hellbent on never letting go. The first book was Rachel Eve Moulton’s Tinfoil Butterfly. The second was my most recent read, Matthieu Simard’s The Country Will Bring Us No Peace. A bleak, strangely poetic narrative full of mystery that explores the darkest corners of human emotion, The Country Will Bring Us No Peace is an outstanding novel with a depressive atmosphere that sticks to your ribs and refuses to let go.
Simon and Marie are a young couple caught between the grieving process that follows losing a child and the desire to start a family elsewhere. They think a change of scenery will help their new beginning, so they leave everything behind and move from their place in the city to a house in a small town. They go there looking for open spaces, nature, and a new life, but what they find is something entirely different. The town is gloomy and the residents are hostile. There are almost no children around and everyone who’s stuck around has some old trauma they carry around that affect everything they do. Also, the factory that gave the town life was closed down and then a strange broadcast antenna was erected. According to locals, the antenna may or may not be doing something to them and to the town.
The Country Will Bring Us No Peace is incredibly dark. This is a bleak, grim novel from start to finish. Depression, sadness, and frustration drip from it’s pages like thick, fresh blood from a deep wound. Simard is a master of atmosphere and he creates one here that is a mix of eerie, sorrowful, and creepy. In fact, his talent for atmosphere and dialogue easily carry the narrative forward with easy even after he more or less gives readers the end of the story in the first few pages:
At this point we don’t know that we’re going to be the ‘murder-suicide’ couple. An episode of domestic violence that will briefly make the news and have everyone shaken up for about five minutes, before they forget all about it the moment they turn off their TVs because it’s getting late and it’s time to go to bed. No one wants to be exhausted the next day.
Despite the novel’s oppressive, relentless gloominess, The Country Will Bring Us No Peace is also packed with poetry that gives it a bizarre sparkle, something akin to the reflection of light you see on blood covered knives in horror movies:
I take Marie’s hand. She doesn’t demur. We move forward slowly, admiring the banality of our surroundings. The trees. The road. Plants and houses, insects and concrete, dust suspended in the air. Burgeoning forest, mouldy particle-board over windows. Peeling paint. The village supine on a bed of dead leaves, waiting to die as the greenery gnaws at its extremities.
The Country Will Bring Us No Peace comes in at 128 pages. Between its length and Simard’s enormous storytelling chops, the novel demands to be read in one or two sittings. However, despite its relatively short length, the narrative evokes feelings that linger. For me, the sense of unease overpowered the permeating sadness of the two main characters. Also, there is much going on that Simard hints at or gives glimpses of without exploring in full. In that regard, this narrative behaves like a smart horror novel in that it keeps you guessing. What’s going on with that damn antenna? Why are all these people connected? What’s wrong with the locals?
Ultimately, The Country Will Bring Us No Peace is a book about grief that dips its toes in horror, love, surrealism, and trauma all the way up to its neck. Simard imbues his prose with enough poetry to keep you from despair, but with enough darkness to keep you on the edge. He knows about pain and sorrow, and he knows that they are two of the main cohesive elements of humanity:
Every town has its stories. Dark secrets, accidents, disappearances. I don’t believe in destiny, and I’m sure if we landed somewhere else we would have ended up with a bunch of similar horror stories. Every little town has the same stories, and they’re a lot like our own. We chose this house, we chose to be here, to be far away from our old house. As if distance could change anything. We were wrong, of course. For starters, we chose the wrong spot. Our wounds could never heal here, with a child or without.
The Country Will Bring Us No Peace is an outstanding book that will resonate with lovers of great storytelling as well as with those who enjoy work happening in the interstitial space between literary fiction and psychological horror.
The Country Will Bring Us No Peace
by Matthieu Simard; translated by Pablo Strauss
Coach House Books; 128 p.