Atlantic, £12.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Infrared By Nancy Huston

An ambitious novel of passions and ideas gets under the skin of its rootless heroine

Nancy Huston was born in Canada, brought up in New York and, as a student, was supervised in Paris by Roland Barthes. Her latest novel expresses elements from these disparate experiences as it journeys through the mysteries of the Italian Renaissance and the insistent memories of a destructive liberal, Jewish family.

Infrared, like her bestselling novel Faultlines, was originally written in French and translated by the author. Huston has a raw psychoanalytic style. Most refreshing in her jagged storytelling is the interplay between Jewish secularism, French radicalism, and post-Seventies American feminism. The narrative starts in the "American abroad" genre, following photographer Rena Greenblatt on her travels to Florence with Simon, her geriatric father, and Ingrid, her Dutch stepmother.

Rena is a middle-aged woman in love with fellow journalist Aziz, a Muslim Arab. As a photojournalist, her speciality is infrared: through this technique she seeks to capture what the human eye cannot.

After sex with a Turkish pick-up she zones under his skin with her forensic technique. Her reward for intimacy is his image in her lens. But although the book is full of erotic adventures, dreams and political questions, Huston is most absorbed by the relationship between father and daughter, and their shared secret. Infrared has the appearance of a modern Renaissance intrigue but its core is that of a Freudian detective story. The villain at its heart is the hell that is family.

Huston plays with father-daughter relationships on several levels. American Jewish dissidence is juxtaposed with the power of Italian Renaissance artists. Who are the great men that shape us? Leonardo? Michelangelo? Our fathers? Galileo's daughter sought solace in a convent. But Simon, an admirer of Timothy Leary, is no Galileo and his daughter prefers jouissance to Jesus. Rena chooses a free life in Europe, unfettered by American puritanism. But she doesn't allow any simple America-versus-Europe dialectic.

Huston complicates her central character in two ways. First, she gives Rena an alter ego: Subra (as in photographer Diane Arbus, inverted). The invented "friend" from childhood is an adult suicidal twin. This allows her to give backstory and explore trauma.

She also creates a character who is rootless. The Canadian-American Rena is a francophile intellectual and artist. However, she is also a Jew ignorant of her own culture, in exile from family, community, history and the modern France she inhabits. The underlying tension between these intertwining worlds hides a memory so shameful that it cracks the narrative arc and explodes the coolness of much of the writing.

Although the book is short, it has an epic quality which mixes fact and fiction. Infrared sprawls across the Atlantic, and the decades, and yet has a thrilling emotional cohesion. Huston's prose is magnetic. This is daring writing which pushes the novel of ideas into a new world.

 

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea