Cover Image: Remnants


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I’m still not sure exactly what this book is meant to be. Autofiction? Biography? Memoir? And yet it won the Governor General’s Literary Award for French-Language Fiction in Canada. So is it in fact fiction? Confusing. Read as non-fiction it’s an exploration of and meditation and reflection on a father’s life and sudden death. It’s a fragmented narrative and the story is told through conversations, interviews, questionnaires, photographs and dreams. Gradually a portrait of this father is built up, but the conflicting stories and different points of view don’t come together to make a satisfying whole, and he never fully came to life for me. The writing seems heartfelt but at the same time the tone is flat and unemotional, so that I failed to engage either with the dead man, his family or the author’s evident grief. There’s a lot of repetition, too, as many of the interviewees tell the same tale and this becomes tedious. The father remains a shadowy and distant figure and thus the book just didn’t work for me.
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Remnants by Céline Huyghebaert is about loss and grief and a daughter trying to get to know her father.
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2.5 / Remnants is a work of autofiction (I think) that explores the life of the main character's father. The book includes memories, interviews, and photos that all come together to explain his life and death. Unfortunately, it was just too fragmented for me. Some parts seemed too impersonal, some repetitive, and I think the form just didn't work in a satisfying or comprehensive way.
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This novel/memoir/autofiction shows a daughter trying to understand and to get to know her dead father. But despite talking to their relatives, his friends and acquaintances and finding photos, the man remains elusive - she can’t pin down who he was, from all these conflicting stories. These pieces of her father, these remnants, don’t make a whole person, rendering him unknowable as she tries to deal with her grief. 
It’s beautifully written - it really portrays those limbo days after the death of someone you love: the utter despair as you tackle this new way of being and living with the memory of a man of contradictions. 
A sad collection of thoughts on the nature of family ties; a thought-provoking read. 
Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC. All views are my own.
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This work innovative work of autofiction by Celine Huyghebaert and translated Alessia Jensen explores grief, memory, and the elusiveness of ever really knowing another person. Celine just misses saying goodbye to her father before he dies at the age of 48 from cancer and/or cirrhosis. In the aftermath of her loss, Celine funnels her grief into a project of understanding and imagining who her father was and what led to his early death. The result is a novel-as-archive, filled with documents such as transcripts of dialogues with family members, photographs, a handwriting analysis, a list of items he owned. In one of the most fascinating sections illustrative of the subjective nature of memory and 'facts', Celine asks several people (mostly her friends who never met her father) to complete a psychological profile answering questions about his childhood, significant life events, and whether or not he was happy. Their answers are insightful but also diverge, reflecting what these individuals believe about her father and they also become mixed up with their own memories and experiences of fathers and/or loss.
All together these various artifacts create a truly moving novel about the grieving process and a compassionate portrait of a difficult man whose own life was marked by loss. This book won the Governor General's Award for French-language fiction in 2019, and I can understand why. I am grateful that Book*hug chose to translate it and to Netgalley for the ARC.
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I don't know whether to call this memoir or domestic fiction, but it is about a daughter losing her father and meticulously ruminating about their relationship, his past and his departure, on her own, in her head and through reams of interviews with others. 

Huyghebaert goes at her investigation with all the creative literary devices she can come up with including psychological profiles, a handwriting report, reflective quotes, notes, and dialogues between a dozen interchanging characters which are related genetically and geographically and rather hard to keep track of in my opinion. I liked all the family photographs, and the way she delves into stigmatic aspects such as divorce, disease and addiction, straight on. 

Having lost my own father very suddenly, from another country, I recognize the range of feelings from panic and disbelief to helplessness presented here and I feel deeply for the author and agree that she should be proud of her creative process, and hope that it's helped her find peace.
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In this novel (memoir? autofiction?), Celine Huyghebaert tries to reconstruct the life of her deceased father. She interviews family; she hunts down photos; she has a graphologist analyze his signature; she conducts psychological surveys to get the hearsay impressions of people who didn't know him; she keeps a record of her disturbed dreams. But her father is now unknowable. All she has are piecemeal souvenirs and contradictory memories (was he a sailer, a shoe-shiner or a railroad man? Did he gut pigs? Was he an absent father or a loving dad? Was he a taciturn grouch or a bon vivant?) Posters of Rene Magritte's paintings adorn street walls, an ambient reminder that the representation is not the thing itself. The memory of the father is not the father. His passport photo, a vacation picture, fond reminiscences are just ephemeral outliers in a lonelier life. The remnant is not the whole. In writing about her father (and in writing about the process of writing about her father), Huyghebaert shows how fraught it is to decipher the past and textualize the dead. He was an alcoholic who died young, but is that the portrait of a life? Huyghebaert doesn't want to just write about her father but obsessively document and inventory him. 

This is a beautiful book. It's about archiving a father as much as grieving his death. I got this arc off netgalley.
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I thought this was an absolutely gorgeous idea for a book — pieces of memories of a father, adding up to make a man, or at least the *remnants* of a man, perceived from multiple different perspectives. I liked that this was sewn together like a project — often contradicting, often repetitive. It shows the nuances of how we perceive people and the limits of memory and how perspectives come together to make us who we truly are. It was emotional and lovely. I can't help but think that a true five-star book would have been more cohesive and acknowledge the brokenness of this father's final memory. But it was a lovely read and stuck with me.
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I was really looking forward to reading this but struggling to follow the story as there are so many letters missing. I'm up to chapter 4 and I cannot tell you what's going on as I need to read ahead to guess what the word should be. Sorry there's not review for the actual story itself.
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Translated by Aleshia Jensen, "Remnants," by Celine Huyghebaert, is a tender literary tribute to her father, a post-mortem performed in conjunction with the voices of those who knew him, and, as the prologue makes clear, chose to speak to the author. 

This a book about the living writing about contending with the dead, proving that past is not past just yet. It is steeped in references ranging from the painter Magritte, the writer Marguerite Duras, the film "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days," and the work of Sophie Calle. 

The book is a collage of different modes of writing, but the one that repeats and takes up the most space are the recorded conversations, which were frankly tedious. I kept wishing that the order of the work was re-arranged so that we had more information about her father from the outset, so we cared about him more when other people talked about him. 

It is so touching how he haunted her long after his death: he appeared in her dreams! 

At the beginning, there is the narrator's relationship with Martin that has no bearing on the other sections. What was the purpose of those initial, actually captivating musings? I liked *that* voice. 

In Annie Ernaux's "A Man's Place," or Chantal Akerman's "Ma Mere Rit," Nathalie Leger's "Exposition," Peter Handke's "A Sorrow Beyond Dreams," and Roland Barthes' "Mourning Diary," there is a sort of serious focus of vision, there is a unity even with disparate elements. 

The flat, neutral tone was almost too familiar for any emotion to come through, which may have to do with the translation. Rather than a screenplay, it should've adopted a journalistic feel to keep the reader interested in her pursuit, which bogged it down with dumps of information never given the space to come to fruition. It is an assemblage of texts that never meaningfully assembles. 

The book did not need to be as long as it was and I can see how the photos were a vital part of the text for the author. There are a bevy of quotes, several lists, and one of the most interesting things to see was how the author succeeded in investing the work with a cinematic feel. 

Like the blurry photo of her father on page 163 (which would've been a great cover image) I, too, felt like it was "impossible to bring this man fully into focus," but, in the end, through the remnants she presents us, I had an soft impression of who this ordinary yet extraordinary man was. 

It was nice to read it the one time: a document of a life, an aggregation of various forms. It would be helpful to think of it as a personal essay collection melded with dispatches of auto-fiction, more in the vein of Kate Zambreno's "Book of Mutter" and Brian Dillion's "In the Dark Room." than anything Maggie Nelson. 

*Thank you NetGalley and Book*hug for making this e-ARC available to me.
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As something with complex familial relationships, I found this book an incredibly emotional, perceptive and affecting read. The author is a master of storytelling and is able to convey the complexity of grief in an honest, unsentimental and unflinching way. It was really moving and it's stayed with me.  An excellent portrait of complex relationships, memories and human nature.  Incredible.
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all i can say, is that this book was so incredibly moving from beginning to end. i don't frequent memoirs or non-fiction, but i'm so glad to have read the ARC of this (thank you netgalley). the hybrid forms to tell this story really added so much depth to the author's heartbreak. it really felt like you were watching the life of this man and his daughter unfold right in front of you.

for me in particular, the last third of this book moved me in such a way where i felt completely inconsolable. the author does such a stunning job at painting a realistic picture of grief, even more so by showing how each sister grieved differently. the book really resurfaced the grief of my own losses and made me remember so many small things i thought i'd forgotten. this truly is one of those books that seems to hold a mirror to you and articulates so much of what you've felt but could never quite articulate. it truly was the small things in this book that seemed to make me cry.

this book really is a wonderful dive into strained relationships and loss, and particularly how difficult it is to reconcile what you want to remember, with what you wish to forget.
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