Inside My Own Skin
Guillaume de Fonclare
Translated by Yves Henri Cloarec
Hanging Loose Press, 2014
In this compact volume, Guillaume de Fonclare, a secular humanist, probes existential depths with philosophical precision and historical acumen. He is a father and husband, at war with an un-named auto-immune affliction that is both debilitating and painful. He is also, at the time of writing, the director of The Historical, the Museum of the Great War at Peronne in the Somme. The intertwining voices of a man who loves and suffers, narrates and records, portray the conflicts imbued in his existence; the threads are braided with compelling effect in this short personal essay. de Fonclare’s illness mirrors his understanding that there never was a healing after the Great War; suffering is the human condition. The motifs of embodiment and commemoration are often juxtaposed. Keeping the memory of the dead gives de Fonclare a perspective that rouses him to life, to help feel “[his own] pain with less acuteness and more compassion toward [him] self “(9).
de Fonclare chronicles the fatalities of the Great War that killed 10 million men—his shocking calculation for the Battle of the Somme is that the dead lay one every 50 feet, keeping in mind that elsewhere “Combat never ceased.” This is the absurd “equation of horror” (35) that remains in the trenches, never quite filled to ground level and still visible, and where dozens of corpses are unearthed each year in construction sites. There are more than four hundred military cemeteries in the Somme Valley.
The work is a translation from the French, and while this reviewer does not speak or read French, I must conclude that Claorec’s translation is very successful in portraying tone and mood, and creating a narrative that moves from historical facts, to reflection, darkness, and even a resolution of sorts. The translation convinces the reader that de Fonclare manages the tension of his narrative masterfully. While his project could be book length, I was satisfied with the short frame of time de Fonclare’s chose, perhaps because of its sombre subject matter and compelling intensity and rhythm that moved me along and held me throughout.
At turns, Inside My Own Skin is a study of history, and a reflection on the duty of memory, suggesting the influence of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, as de Fonclare points out our responsibility to “teach, educate and demand of ourselves a commitment to the duty of history.” (14). It seems he is also a student of language theory, aware of the semantics that are meant to dull war’s effect on our consciousness. Under his care, in the archives of the Historic, the stories of the lost come to de Fonclare’s rescue—those whose “stories have never been heard because they never said a word” (44). He reminds us that story and memory are all we have as means to transcend death.
Connie T. Braun is an author and instructor of Creative Writing (BA in Communications, MA in Humanities) and is completing her MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. She has published a memoir and a book of poetry along with reviews for various publications, and her personal essays and poetry appear in anthologies and journals. She is an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. As well as serving on the board of PRISM nternational, she serves on advisory boards for the arts and creative writing and on the Board of Directors for Image Journal. She lives in Vancouver.