The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
In The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, author Liz Jensen imagines two worlds: the world of the mind and the world of external events. Her novel challenges the reader to reconcile the one with the other by throwing them into a mystery whose solution seems to elude the closest of readers.
The story in Jensen’s novel is told by two separate voices. One voice belongs to a nine-year-old French lad named Louis Drax, who seems prone to strange but non-lethal accidents. Drax is a precociously bright, insightful, and puzzling boy who narrates his inner and outer lives with lively language. Drax’s parents are caught in an unraveling marriage, and like many a child, Drax fears that he is the cause of that distress. When the family motors out to the French countryside for a picnic meant to celebrate Louis’s ninth birthday, the central mystery of the novel ensues: both Louis and his father tumble over a cliff’s edge. The father disappears in the river below, while Louis survives but lapses into a coma.
Here enters the novel’s second voice: that of Dr. Dannachet, a controversial specialist in comas, particularly in deciphering what happens in that inner world of the coma victim. Dannachet works to understand Louis’s condition by studying the fabric of his life. In the process, he also becomes emotionally involved with Louis’s mother, who is a mentally fragile and problematic woman. The doctor’s own personal life is not in all that good of shape before Louis appears, and matters do not improve after the doctor takes on the job of Louis’s care.
In the end, Louis seems to defy the medical logic of comas. At one point, he even lapses into death, but returns to the world of the living in a kind of miraculous physical move. The mystery gradually is solved, but not without certain personal costs being paid by the characters involved.
Along the way, Liz Jensen explores the problems of perception: of the ways in which children perceive the adult world around them, of the ways in which adults perceive the workings of the youthful mind. Indeed, quite frequently the process is one of misperception and misinterpretation. In The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, Jensen engages readers in the delicious task of distinguishing what is and what might be.