Tom is dead


Set in the Blue Mountains and in Sydney, Tom is Dead is a suspense novel about grief. The narrator’s son has been dead for ten years; he was four and a half. For the first time since that day, she spends a few minutes without thinking of him. To stop herself from forgetting, she tries to write Tom’s story, the story of his death.

She writes about the first hours, the first days, and then about the hours and the days before. She strives to describe it all as precisely as possible. It’s the details that will lead her and the reader to the truth.

Tom is Dead is a French mother’s journal of ten years of grief following her son’s death one afternoon in Sydney. Darrieussecq’s novel recounts in jumbled order the events following Tom’s death. On one level, the mother recounts the accomplishment of necessary tasks: the question of repatriation, insurance compensation procedures, choosing an urn and a Zorro cremation costume, clerical phone calls from the hospital. But these tasks are mere mundane landscape behind the internal grief that the unnamed mother experiences amidst these obligations. Temporarily losing the ability to speak and perform basic daily functions, she retreats into phases of reclusiveness and crazed anguish. She checks into a hospital and attends grief counseling groups, but none of these measures alleviate her pain. She watches her family adapt to her “half-mad” state as they themselves mourn and cope in their individual ways. With the compensation money from the insurance company, the family goes on holiday to Tasmania; “the first urge, the first spark of life, the first desire beyond grieving, for an object even, for something trivial.” For the first time in months, she laughs. However this holiday, a respite in the novel, is hardly a turning point. Ten years later, she continues to grieve her son’s death for which she cannot help but blame herself.

Adelita Barrett, University of Arizona

The novel is translated from the French by Lia HIlls