Anima by Wajdi Mouawad (2014)
Wajdi Mouawad is back after his successful and outstanding theatre play Incendies, written back in 2003. This does not mean that he has not been writing since then, on the contrary, he has been involved in theatre since then, both as author and as director; along with that, he has published a few novels, amongst which we find the one we will be discussing in this article: Anima.
“They had played dead so many times in one another’s arms, that when he found her full of blood in the middle of the living room he bursted out laughing, convinced that he was witnessing a representation, something great that will surprise him this time, overwhelm him, astonish him, make him lose his head”
It starts as a thriller, but from the very beginning we catch there is something different: a peculiar point of view and a sophisticated but at the same time brutal tone. The first thing that we may wonder is who is speaking to us; in other words, who is the narrative voice that Mouawad has assumed to tell portray the whole story?
I have no idea if finding out for yourself –as I did- or knowing with anticipation will affect your insight of the novel as a reader; however, this is one –if not the most- item that makes this story particular. The narrator voice is composed by animals. And not only one, but more than twenty. Mouawad acquires a beastlike voice –sometimes more civilized- to tell us about the human main characters actions –frequently wilder than the narrators-.
Despite his genie and the praises he has received (if deserved or not you are to judge); Wajdi Mouawad is not, by far, the first writer to outstand because of his or her innovative approach. We have copious examples of this throughout history, a movement which encompasses not a period of time but a way of understanding literature. Laurence Sterne with Tristam Shandy, without going any further, broke all conventions existing or to exist.
However, there is a specific author who opened a breach in the way literature was understood and is the base of how we read today. Virginia Woolf comes to my mind as soon as I think about experimental writing or innovative points of view. One of her most acclaimed novels, Mrs. Dalloway, develops the technique known as stream of consciousness, where the character’s thoughts are closely followed, switching from one to another, and shifting from direct to indirect speech freely combining omniscient description, indirect interior monologue and baffling soliloquies.
Furthermore, sticking with Mrs. Woolf, I want to look deeper into one of her not so glorious writings, not for that any worse; that is: Flush: A Biography. Here she describes a cocker spaniel’s biography from the dog’s point of view. At the same time, the novel serves as a harsh criticism of the unnatural way of life in the city. Surprise! An animal being the narrative voice and illustrating humans living as beasts. Sounds familiar?
“Twice Flush had done his utmost to kill his enemy; twice he had failed. And why had he failed, he asked himself? Because he loved Miss Barrett. Looking up at her from under his eyebrows as she lay, severe and silent on the sofa, he knew that he must love her forever. Things are not simple but complex. If he bit Mr. Browning he bit her too. Hatred is not hatred; hatred is also love.”
All in all, I’m not trying to belittle Wajdi Mouawad’s novel. Moreover, I really admire the dedication he put in it throughout ten year of writing. The point of this argument is that, when writing, we are constantly –even sometimes without knowing- influenced by past authors. Maybe Mouawad has never read Virginia Woolf, but no one can deny the impact she has had in literature. I am quoting Woolf as I could name Proust, Tolstoy or Camus. Classic authors will inevitably affect contemporary writers, whether they know it or not.