A Mysterious and Haunting Novel
Daemon in Lithuania Henri Guigonnat
Translation Barbara Wright
In an imagined Lithuania where if it is not raining, it is probably snowing, a very odd family resides in a Neo-Gothic chateau surrounded by an overgrowth of trees, vines, and general miasmic verdure. Their lives take a drastic turn when the she-cat Daemon arrives.
Herni Guigonnat’s only novel is a unique piece of baroque weirdness reminiscent of Mervyn Peake, Mikhail Bulgakov and Charles Addams.
Max-Ulrich is a young aristocrat raised by his grandparents in a family where everyone seems to die by pairs: his parents were killed within minutes of each other by separate railroad trains, his mother dropping her copy of Tolstoy as she fell. Max-Ulrich grows up in an out-of-time castle in Lithuania, where a common plate in the hallway holds everyone’s eyeglasses. (Once you enter here it’s better not to see too clearly what’s going on.) The castle’s inhabitants include neurasthenic sister Kinga, servant Baba Sonina (who hides something surprising under her multifarious petticoats), Uncle Alexander the vampire, and the cartwheel-turning, insect-eating governess, The-Lady-In-Black.
No one, however, is more compelling than Daemon, a she-cat who grows to pony-size and craves desserts, who eats at the table and spears leeches and acts in home theatricals. Incongruous and astonishing events ensue as the great she-cat grows ever larger on her diet of vegetables and Continental desserts – a diet possibly supplemented during her solitary twilight strolls – children are said to have occasionally disappeared …
This book has led readers to invoke comparisons to Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll, Jean Cocteau, Jean de la Fontaine and Laurence Sterne.