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Les Possédés de la pleine lune by Jean-Claude Fignolé (review)

From: Journal of Haitian Studies
Volume 19, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 217-220 | 10.1353/jhs.2013.0026

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Jean-Claude Fignolé’s Les Possédés de la pleine lune begins and ends with death and madness, but is infused with humor and love throughout. A whirl of unresolved tension on the level of both form and content, the narrative unfolds in a spiral and does not lend itself to easy summarizing. Characters double and overlap, time collapses on itself, spaces alternate between the insular and the world, and language is at once pointed and wildly capacious. Fignolé leads the dance, of course, yet allows a tangle of other voices to reach the reader’s ear. The result is choral and chaotic—a moving but unromanticized portrait of a Haitian community in all its ambivalence and idiosyncrasy.

The community in question is made up of the inhabitants of Les Abricots, a small coastal village in southwest Haiti with legendary ties to the nation’s pre-Columbian past. Situated on a bay and surrounded by hills, Les Abricots constitutes a closed and isolated world. Fignolé, an agronomist by trade and mayor of this actual commune from 2007 to 2012, has long been firmly planted in the midst of those who figure in his writing. In fact, having elected, during the years of the successive Duvalier regimes, not to leave Haiti for fear of being obliged to remain in permanent exile, Fignolé has been relegated somewhat to the margins of the Haitian literary tradition. The publication of this new edition of his first novel, originally penned more than twenty years ago, will be crucial to bringing renewed life—that is, greater critical attention and a wider readership—to what is an exceptional work of Haitian and world literature.

Indeed, though the town is in many ways closed in on itself, Fignolé inserts Les Abricots into the wider postcolonial world. The community he fictionalizes is immersed in a mysticism that links it, through a combination of Vodou and Christian mythology, to a broader cosmic space. Struggling to withstand the onslaughts of various social and environmental evils, including the repressive governance of a bloodthirsty seven-headed beast, persistent joblessness, and devastating hurricanes that regularly ravage the landscape, the citizens of Les Abricots understand their existence within a frame at once particular and global, marvelous and real.

The initial pages of Possédés describe a traditional veillée—a wake. Both the central plot and the formal architecture of the novel emerge from these first five pages, and both explicitly reflect Fignolé’s deep connection to the Haitian folkloric imagination. This opening scene is fantastic, in the most literal sense of the term: it is steeped in marvelous inexplicability. For there are two corpses waiting to be buried. One is that of Agénor, a small fisherman considered by the community to be an oddly reserved, isolated, and mysterious individual: “Les hommes du village le disaient bizarre. Certains insinuaient même qu’il était fou. Ils l’avaient jugé différent pour mieux opposer à cette différence une attitude collective dans laquelle entraient sans aucun doute la crainte, l’envie, la jalousie sinon la haine” (14). The second cadaver, an unidentified dead man that Agénor apparently carried home from his nightly fishing excursion, is even more mysterious. He is Agénor’s twin—the fisherman’s doppelganger in every way—yet no one in the commune, including Agénor’s wife Saintmilia, has ever seen him before: “Les visages et les corps étaient interchangeables . . . Les visages tournés l’un vers l’autre portaient l’empreinte d’un tragique qu’accentuait la ressemblance de plus en plus frappante à mesure que la nuit avançait” (15).

As the tale progresses, a confusing explanation surfaces. It would seem that while out fishing the night before the wake, Agénor had succeeded in harpooning the man-sized, one-eyed fish he had been tracking obsessively, over the course of several months, on nights illuminated by the full moon. Upon being brought to shore by Agénor, who was mortally wounded during the hunt, the fish transformed itself into the fisherman’s physical double. Both “men” died from an identical gash to the side and were laid out next to one another in Saintmilia’s...


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