Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 363
Mad Shadows is a fairytale-like story of one family whose extreme dysfunction results in its complete breakdown and several deaths. Louise, the mother, sharply divides love and neglect between her son, Patrice, and daughter, Isabelle-Marie.
Louise’s obsession with physical beauty includes her inability to cope with aging, along with battling skin cancer and trying to cover its disfiguring effects:
Louise redid her make-up several times a day. In place of the dressing she applied warm, evil-smelling creams which changed the color of her skin. Age was hollowing her features, staining her neck and her brow.
Her son, Patrice, is devoted to his mother, who lavishes love on him because she shallowly reveres his physical beauty. In contrast, the author also gives him a severe intellectual disability; the 1950s descriptions of him, such as an “idiot” with a “dead brain,” will likely be challenging for contemporary readers. (Translation from the French may be partly responsible.) Even as he frequently engages in silent, uncomprehending observation, others esteem him because of his beauty.
Behind his forehead everything grew confused, like a billowing stormcloud on a screen. He watched in silence and did not understand, but his idiot face was so dazzling that it made one think of genius.
In stark contrast, Isabelle-Marie is depicted as both ugly and overly self-aware. Her mother’s withholding of love from her, and her jealousy over her brother, prove a near-lethal combination as she ultimately gains her revenge. The author compares her facial features to her temperament:
Her sharp features added to the utter cruelty and anger on her face . . .
. . . her alarming eyes [were] . . . often full of anger . . . When she scowled, the lower part of her face twisted into a look of fierce contempt.
In her lack of emotional depth, Louise is often called a “doll.” After Isabelle-Marie viciously injures her brother, Louise reveals herself not as a caring mother but as unbelievably superficial:
As Patrice desperately tried to cling to her mother, Louise pulled away from his clutches; she was not physically able to bear the sight of such a desperately injured being . . . Patrice no longer meant anything to her, for her soul was that of a doll.