Reading your novel Breathing into Marble, tr. Marija Marcinkute (2016. Original: Kvėpavimas į marmurą, 2006) feels like being trapped in a room of glass: it’s cold and solid, and we can see everything from a great distance; however, if we try to come near the glass to see more clearly, it gets misty, blurred from the inside, with our breath.
We follow Isabel, a thirty-something artist who is married to Liudas, an unfaithful schoolteacher. The couple has a son, Gailius, who suffers from epilepsy. For reasons that remain unstated, they decide to adopt another child – perhaps to make company for their son, perhaps to make up for his illness, or for their crumbling marriage, we don’t really know. In the orphanage run by her friend, Beatrice, Isabel spots a troubled six-year-old boy at the very moment he is confronting a nurse by swallowing a nail. Then and there, there seems to be an instant connection between the two: they seem to see eye to eye. “The light pressed around her like glass armour.”
From this moment on, and despite her friend’s best advice, Isabel is adamant that she should adopt Ilya. However, when she brings him home, in the countryside, his presence starts to bring to the surface not only the difficulties she is facing in her marriage, but also her own troubled past. Ilya’s violent tendencies seem to be a mirror for the darkest side of Isabel’s life and personality.
At the core of the book, we have the ambivalent, twisted relationship between Isabel and Ilya. Once introduced in her home, the boy not so much disrupts the household’s peace, but rather makes evident the existence of a fracture, running deep between Isabel, Liudas, and, ultimately, Gailius.
The novel starts as a character study told in a fragmented, lyrical way, and slowly turns into a strange psychological thriller. A crime happens – however, rather than chasing the culprit, the victim sets out in search of herself. She doesn’t know where her innocence ends and her responsibility begins: does Isabel have a part in the murder, for the way she treated its culprit? Was it his revenge? Did she somewhat expect or even want it to happen? From the beginning, we feel that something has to give.
Childhood abuse, depression, deception, and betrayal: your novel weaves in each of these topics without ever giving up their ambiguity and complexity. The writing – fragmented, evocative and rich in the use of similes and sensual details – contributes to create a disturbing atmosphere, and the ending is nothing less than ambivalent and unsettling. It feels like you are pressing upon a wound, intent on unravelling its complexity, as if looking at it through magnifying glass. Then, you take this transparent panel of glass and gradually make it blurred with warm, steamy, human breath. And, finally, you force us to go on staring through this marbled mist.
“HIS EYES were brown, with irises that seemed as thick as steel- they had none of the softness that would be characteristic of a child.When Isabel was taken to the group, they all simultaneously turned towards the door and a hush fell upon them. Isabel froze in deadly silence, pierced by fifteen pairs of starring eyes. And the a ripple out from the corner, a short, slight stir as the boy pressed his tiny fists into his mounth and his eyes flashed.Hardness was probably his most distinctive quality. ” – Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite, Breathing into Marble
“What am I doing? She thought suddenly. I’m on the swing trying to show him how to be free and simple. I‘m only thinking about myself again.” – Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite, Breathing into Marble
And then she lifted her eyes. The swallows twittered because they were alive and were full of the desire to live. From that moment on she understood that life should be full of noise – it was life’s privilege, its daily battle. Silent things were cold and dark and dangled from the roof beam like an empty sack. Silence was more terrible than noise. It corroded your sanity. – Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite, Breathing into Marble
She jumped up, her hands pressed to her chest as if afraid that the beast encaged within her rib cage would escape. Hastily she ran with it to the door. ‘Women are so cruel,’ she said, turning suddenly. ‘Especially former friends.’ – Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite, Breathing into Marble
They folded up, like blossom shrinking back into its bud, and it seemed to her that she was watching her child from the window of a train that was moving away. She looked and could not do anything more. – Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite, Breathing into Marble
I know that my death is growing up with me, and that it is sharp and fast, like a stab. It won’t attack me from the back. It will call out with its secret, velvet voice and, when I turn, it will pierce me like a knife. But we will have looked into each other’s eyes. It isn’t sly – it’s just that death is much faster than we are. And everything in me will relax when death’s shroud slithers and shimmers across my skin. I won’t resist. Because it knows what it is doing. – Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite, Breathing into Marble
And as he disappeared into the depths of the wood, her eyes followed him and Isabel realised that she missed and would always miss what one person could never give to another; it was something they could only awaken and fuel. – Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite, Breathing into Marble
The woman climbed out of the water. Droplets sparkled like scales on her naked, bony body. Isabel felt as if she were looking at herself. As if a hidden part of herself had stepped out of water – famished, with small sagging breasts, mobile, jutting hipbones like cogwheels, a dripping knot of grey hair at the back of her head and skin wrinkled like crumpled paper. Yet still full of a frightening, vital force. – Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite, Breathing into Marble
A groan rose from deep inside Isabel, from the very core of her being, as if she were pulling out the mouldy, moth-eaten sheets of her heart. Her heart moved, contracted, as if resisting, squirming before ripping – but she knew that she would be able to do it. A clean, empty space was opening up behind the glass, a space cut open by the sun. – Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite, Breathing into Marble
About the book
- Noir Press, 2016, tr. Marija Marcinkute, 192 p. Goodreads
- First published in 2006
- Original title: Kvėpavimas į marmurą
- The book was made into a movie, directed by Giedrė Beinoriūtė (2018, IMDb)
- My rating: 4 stars
- I read this book for Backpack Through Europe Summer Reading Challenge & R.I.P. – R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril