Poil de Carotte

by Jules Renard

Paperback, 1999




Brooking International (1999)


Neglected by his parents, bullied by his peers, left to wander the streets and woods by himself (that is, when he isn't locked in his room or the cellar for punishment), the little redheaded boy known as "Poil de Carotte" ["Carrot Top"] manages to survive the worst that rural France has to offer.

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Although the cover might suggest some saccharine childhood tales, this is actually a pretty dark account of youngest child, "Carrots", brought up in middle class respectability by a mother who hates him and a father who doesn't really notice. His two siblings offer little comfort, and Carrots' life
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revolves around strategies for deflecting his mother's sadistic cruelty....which often fail (but not always.)
Such a narrative could create a whey-faced victim, but Carrots isn't that.... Brutalized, taking out his torments on animals he encounters (I'm not sure I LIKED Carrots, though I pitied him), the succession of short episodes leaves the reader with a sense that the boy will get through life, though likely always scarred from his childhood.
This was apparently a partly autobiographical work; Renard's mother being of a similar temperament.
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