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;
is any time at all,
between now and the night.
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.