Reviewed by Jaglvr for TeensReadToo.com
MERCURY UNDER MY TONGUE is not a book for the weak of heart. It is a powerful story told through they eyes of a seventeen-year-old boy dying of bone cancer. Frederick Langlois is in a Canadian hospital. He knows he is dying and is doing what he can to survive.
Frederick's family comes to visit, but he has little to say. Instead, he has thoughts inside his head of what he would prefer to say to them. He has gone so far as to write letters to each member of his family. His plan is to have one of the survivors on his floor mail them off on the one-year anniversary of his death.
His only solace is the poetry that he writes, but shares with no one except a fifteen-year-old leukemia patient, Marilou. The poetry shows another glimpse into Frederick's thoughts as he faces his final days.
Mr. Trudel writes a sad, moving story of a boy wanting more out of life than the hand he was dealt. Frederick shows anger, regret, love, joy, and, against his better judgment, acceptance, as his time draws nearer to the end. He rarely shares his pain of cancer with the reader, but there are snippets of the discomfort that he struggles with on a daily basis.
The story is translated from its original French but still flows beautifully and eloquently. If nothing else, Mr. Trudel's work will make you glad you are alive, and want to live the most in each day.
Death comes for us all. Mercury Under My Tongue, the new novel from Governor Generals Award-winning Quebec writer Sylvain Trudel, tackles this inevitability head-on, through the eyes of an atheistic teenage narrator spending his final days in a cancer ward as best he can. Trudel follows this first-person narrative through to its inevitable end.
Frederick Langlois, the 17-year-old narrator, finds the whole situation terribly unfair, though he accepts his position with as much grace as possible. Like any sensitive adolescent, Langlois writes poetry and muses philosophically about the meaning of life. Reading Langloiss poetry is very much like reading Zen koans; they pop up whenever he feels the need to make a strong point. (Happy is he who steps outside/ in the way we enter a church.)
At first, readers may find themselves wondering what a self-described asshole like Langlois has to say about life. As he fluctuates between hatred for the superstitions of the Catholic Church in which he was raised and a mystics embrace of all of lifes torments, it becomes clear that his philosophical and religious ramblings are a sustained search for the perfect final words. Knowing that his hourglass is swiftly running out of sand, and unsure whether to laugh or cry, Langlois continually manipulates readers feelings with his vivid descriptions of the hospital and its residents and his biting commentaries, though he never asks for pity.
People often believe that the deaths of young people are more terrible than the deaths of those who have lived full lives. Trudels young narrator tries this theme on for size, spins it about like a pencil in his eager writing hand, and ultimately does his best to comfort his family before he departs. He tries to explain his feelings and the reasons behind his seemingly absurd behaviour in his journal the book we are reading one year after his demise.
While it is nothing new for a character to face death in hospital or to write from beyond the grave, Trudels approach remains fresh from beginning to end because of Langloiss own creed of honesty at all costs.
(Originally published at Quill & Quire at http://www.quillandquire.com/reviews/review.cfm?review_id=6076)