cover image The Laws of the Skies

The Laws of the Skies

Grégoire Courtois, trans. from the French by Rhonda Mullins. Coach House, $16.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-55245-387-2

Courtois’s first novel to be translated into English, a haunting avant-garde thriller, begins like a fairy tale but winds up more like a Friday the 13th movie. Twelve six-year-old schoolchildren leave their parents for a weekend at camp with their teacher Frederic and two chaperones; readers know from the first page that none of them will return. Death and fear seem to stalk the children, not a natural fear but “all the fears that used to fill our days and our imaginations... in the dark, with the whispers of the trees and the invisible beasts.” The adults try to calm the students with fables and campfires, but violence erupts when the sociopathic—if not altogether evil—child Enzo bludgeons Frederic to death with a rock before turning his attention to his fellow students, whom he hunts one-by-one throughout the night that follows. Alone in an unforgiving nature and soon separated from any semblance of adult supervision, the brutality of the world is suddenly laid bare for children. Among them, the precociously mature Hugo dares to take a stand against Enzo in a desperate attempt at survival. Unflinching in its savagery, the nightmarish poetry of this modern Lord of the Flies is undeniable. Courtois writes that “a story without a point destroys civilization a little,” and far from being an exercise in idle cruelty, this wicked novel plumbs the darkest reaches of childhood fears and finds plenty to be afraid of.[em] (May) [/em]