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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Mad Shadows is a novel published in 1959 by French Canadian author Marie-Claire Blais. It centers around a beautiful but damaged family. Louise is the matriarch of the family, obsessed with her beloved but helpless son, Patrice, and Isabelle-Marie is the capable but hateful daughter.

Throughout their childhood, Patrice's beauty is often complimented and Isabelle-Marie is often ignored. We first see this in the opening scene on a train. Louise, recognizing Isabelle-Marie’s inner ugliness, also ignores her. Louise’s husband is dead, and she and the children live on their farm. Louise meets Lanz, a younger man who proves to be no good, at a resort and brings him home to live with the family. She pays so much attention to the controlling Lanz that she neglects Patrice. Isabelle-Marie meets Michael, a blind boy who falls in love with her because she says she is beautiful. They get married and have a baby, and he regains his vision; seeing she is actually not beautiful, he leaves her, and Isabelle-Marie returns home with her baby. Patrice is finally overcome with jealousy at the loss of his mother’s affection, and he kills Lanz. Louise returns to adoring Patrice. Isabelle-Marie, angry at the role physical beauty plays in their lives, puts Patrice’s face into a pot of boiling water, making him as ugly as she is. He is devastated and clingy, and Louise sends him to an insane asylum and kicks out Isabelle-Marie and her daughter. Isabelle-Marie sets the farm on fire, killing her mother. She then kills herself, throwing herself under a train. Patrice also kills himself once he realizes how ugly he now is.

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