Vengeance Is Mine by Marie NDiaye

In Marie NDiaye's quiet psychological thriller, a lawyer represents a woman on trial for murder, in whose past she is inescapably entangled

Book Review by Venezia Castro | 25 Oct 2023
  • Vengeance Is Mine by Marie NDiaye
Book title: Vengeance Is Mine
Author: Marie NDiaye, trans. Jordan Stump

Very little can be taken for granted in Marie NDiaye’s quiet psychological thriller. A cast of obscure characters surrounds the unreliable Maître Susane, a middle-aged lawyer whose life seems to unravel as she accepts representing Marlyne Principaux, a woman on trial for the murder of her own children. What consumes Maître Susane is not the gruesomeness of the case as much as the inescapable feeling that she has met the woman’s husband before, decades earlier, on a night that defined the course of her life. But who is Gilles Principaux to her?

Translated from the French by Jordan Stump, Vengeance is Mine is an exploration of memory, trauma and personal relationships through the lense of a shattered psyche. Although the resulting picture is blurry at best, a few elements distinctly stand out: an acute representation of familial and cultural dynamics, as well as a latent psychological complexity found in nearly every character, which strains and brings the sharp edges of these dynamics into focus, even if fleetingly.

While there is a certain hypnotic quality in the dreamlike narration, there is also a level of detachment from the story that results in lack of momentum as the plot moves towards an unsatisfactory conclusion. The narrative distance might be too great to avoid a sense of monotony in what could be an equally profound but more thrilling thriller.

Quercus, 26 Oct