A newcomer to the literary landscape, the Dalva publishing house prides itself on publishing contemporary authors who “tell us about their lives as women, their relationship to nature or to our society”, who “write to change the world, for the understand, to make us dream ”. Promise kept if we can trust this first offering published in France in May.

First novel by Australian Erin Hortle, professor of literature and ocean lover who grew up on the coast of Tasmania, L’Octopus and me tells of the tumultuous fate of Lucy who, following cancer and an accident involving an octopus trying to save her eggs, no longer has breasts and can no longer give birth. These two events will upset the couple she forms with Jem, abalone fisherman and ardent defender of the sea and its fauna. “How many trials can a body, a woman – however strong she be – endure? He asks himself in the ambulance.

As her couple breaks down, Lucy reclaims her body, tames her new femininity, questions motherhood. In doing so, she no longer perceives the environment as before, her relationships with others are no longer the same. For his part, Jem will not know what to do with Lucy’s transformation, which he does not want to lose: “He needs her to listen to him tell him that these guys are ‘big pigs stuck in their toxic masculinity”. “

Before inviting the reader to discover Lucy’s psyche, the exotic Tasmanian landscapes and the picturesque characters who evolve there, including Flo and Poppy the Greek, octopus fishermen, Erin Hortle destabilizes him by relating the accident from the point of view of the title octopus.

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“I see-feel a cold light that is too strong and we are struck I see-taste-touch metal and gasoline and we are in the air for a moment I am no longer heavy, flat fixed crushed on the ground for an instant my tentacles can twirl and dance in the air and I taste on her skin a flash of shock and fear I do not let go I am with her. “

Further on, she tells the story of a little beta seal and her friend, who carries her first puppy following her encounter with an alpha male. If the recurrence of these animal asides is surprising, we have to notice the brilliance with which the novelist translates how the gestures, conscious or not, of man impact the life of all species, human, animal, plant.

Through the eyes of Lucy, herself overwhelmed by the gaze of an octopus, the author expresses the empathy one can feel towards animals. Without neglecting to stress that this chance is not given to all: “We are more likely to feel empathy for a beast that has a face. The poor abalone, even with their big black lips, they have no face. “

Leading her characters towards their inescapable destiny according to a chronology marrying the comings and goings of the waves, Erin Hortle signs a feminist and environmentalist novel whose lyricism and sensuality evoke the works of Virginia Woolf and Colette.

The Octopus and I

★★★ 1/2

Erin Hortle, translated from English (Australia) by Valentine Leÿs, Dalva, Paris, 2021, 398 pages

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