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Maxime Olivier Moutier, Marie-Hélène au mois de mars

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Maxime Olivier Moutier, Marie-Hélène au mois de mars

Ce roman d’amour est déconcertant. Ou peut-être le fait qu’il s’annonce comme un roman d’amour l’est. Quelle image avons-nous habituellement du roman d’amour? Le roman à l’eau de rose, le roman sentimental visant un public essentiellement féminin, le roman Harlequin? La définition de linternaute.com nous dit “roman dans lequel l’amour est au centre de l’intrigue”. On sort un peu du stéréotype sentimental. Mais je ne peux m’empêcher de penser que l’étiquette de “roman d’amour” pour ce livre est plutôt ironique.

Je dirais que le centre de l’intrigue est la maladie mentale du protagoniste/narrateur. L’apparition de cette maladie aurait pu être précipitée par les difficultés de la vie amoureuse du narrateur ou les difficultés qui apparaissent dans la vie amoureuse du narrateur sont peut-être dues à une faille ou une faiblesse psychique préexistante. Une brève mais intense relation entre Marie-Hélène et le narrateur se solde par une tentative de suicide de ce dernier, qui cause son internement dans un hôpital psychiatrique. On ne parle nulle part de diagnostique ou de traitement et on ne voit que le point de vue du narrateur, quelques fois en un flux d’idées et d’images sans suite.

La notion de “roman” est aussi mise en cause. Le livre commence par une note de l’auteur:

Près des deux tiers de ce récit furent écrits alors que j’étais interné à l’hôpital Saint-Vincent-de-Paul de Sherbrooke. C’était en 1995. J’avais vingt-trois ans. À cette époque, la mort était partout. J’ai écrit ces pages en état d’urgence, sans compromis, comme  pour dire une dernière chose avant de mourir, définitivement. Le jour où elles seraient lues, j’aurais disparu. Comme un mot d’adieu.

Il dit plus loin:

Sur du papier, je n’aurai fait que mettre les mots qui me venaient; les mots d’une histoire qui a fait ma vie. Sans me soucier de relater les intentions réelles des personnes dont je parle. Je ne m’excuse donc pas: c’est de la fiction. C’est de l’écriture.

Alors, on peut penser que l’histoire que nous raconte le narrateur est basée sur des événements de la vie de l’auteur, comme il les a perçus, très subjectivement, sans recherche sur la “réalité objective” de la situation, ce qui en fait donc de la fiction. Donc, roman d’amour!

Référence:

Moutier, Maxime Olivier. Marie-Hélène au mois de mars. Marchand de feuilles, 2016. [Triptyque, 1998]

Autres choses:

https://voir.ca/livres/1998/12/10/marie-helene-au-mois-de-mars-le-maitre-des-desillusions/

http://www.ledevoir.com/culture/livres/478059/l-impudeur-d-un-livre-culte

https://www.erudit.org/fr/revues/lq/1999-n96-lq1187431/37480ac.pdf

Mes croquinotes

Deni Ellis Béchard, Into the Sun

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While this is a novel and not a memoir or biography, this book provides an interesting window into the world of expat workers and consultants in troubled areas of the world. It illustrates the tension between staying safe and experiencing life in the new place, as well as the various motivations that draws people to these places. It maybe a missionary streak, a need to challenge oneself, a desire to help, or the drive to profit from the situation.

The first paragraph instantly conveys the mood of the setting:

Winter was premonition. We know something was going to happen. We saw it in the desolation and poverty, the gusting indeterminate scraps, the men pushing trash carts, their figures like engravings of the plague, heads wrapped in tattered keffiyehs; or the smog of traffic, wood fires, and diesel generators – the effluvium of four million souls desperate to heat concrete and earthen homes – mixing with dust in the thin, chill mountain air and hanging over the city in blunt journalistic metaphors: shrouds, palls, and, of course, veils. Snow fell, churned into mud that rutted and froze. Pipes burst. Handy men returned to our doors, grim and extortionate, like doctors.

Kabul in winter is inhospitable to most of its inhabitants. For expats, there is the addition of the fears of this foreign environment, the feeling of being a target for the sole reason of being different or being perceived as an unwanted intruder in a complex, fraught situation.

The story is told by five voices: a Japanese writer, an American teacher, an American security contractor, a Canadian lawyer, and an Afghani youth. They all become linked in the story, so some of the events are told from different points of view, which slowly reveal the design behind an event that might originally have been thought to be accidental…

What surprised me in the book is the relative absence of organized armed forces or peace keeping and the heavy presence of private security contractors.

This book was very satisfying in the way scenes and action combined with description to make the setting come alive. I could really see, in my head, the settings and actions moving along with great clarity as if seen through the eyes of the narrator.

 

Reference:

Béchard, Deni Ellis. Into the Sun. House of Anansi Press, 2016.

Other things:

http://www.quillandquire.com/review/into-the-sun/

https://blogs.brown.edu/litr-0710-s01-spring-2017/2017/02/01/the-novel-as-device-in-deni-ellis-bechards-into-the-sun/

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/09/08/before-the-blast/

Guides pour découvrir Montréal et trouver des endroits où aller dessiner

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Je ne manque pas d’idées pour trouver des choses à dessiner, ou j’ai tendance à dessiner ce qu’il y a droit devant moi (comme la vente de garage de mon voisin samedi dernier), mais j’aime quand même pouvoir explorer la région et en profiter pour croquer ce que j’y trouve.

Il y a toujours les guides touristiques qu’on retrouve dans les centres Infotouriste. J’ai fait une visite à celui du centre-ville de Montréal et j’en suis ressortie avec de multiples pamphlets que je garde maintenant à la vue dans mon bureau:

  • 50 musées de Montréal
  • Les guides officiels de Montréal, de la Montérégie, de l’Estrie, des Laurentides et de Lanaudière

Je suis aussi tombée sur les livres suivants dernièrement:

  • Nancy Dunton et Helen Malkin, Guide de l’architecture contemporaine de Montréal. 2e édition. Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2016.

Par quartier, on y présente des bâtiments et endroits publics qui ont une particularité au niveau architectural et qui sont accessibles par les transports en commun. On souligne la présence de plusieurs ensembles récents au caractère novateur. Il ne s’agit donc pas d’un guide qui reflète l’histoire de l’architecture de la ville, mais d’une série de vignettes sur ce qui a un intérêt en ce moment. Le livre possède trois index: un par nom de lieu ou de bâtiment, et ainsi qu’un index des architectes et un index des types de bâtiments. Le livre contient de bonnes photos, surtout des vues d’ensemble ainsi que quelques photos de détails. Pour moi, ce qui sera intéressant sera de trouver des points de vue stimulants pour le dessin.

  • Philippe Renault. Montréal insolite et secrète. Éditions Jonglez, Paris, 2014.

Quoique ce guide contienne beaucoup d’endroits qui se retrouveraient dans une guide touristique standard, on y trouve quelques surprises intéressantes pour le dessin…

J’ai aussi deux  autres livres moins récents, mais quand même intéressants:

  • Hélène Laperrière, Promenades montréalaises. Fides, Montréal, 2003.

Ce livre est écrit par une urbaniste. Comme pour les deux guides déjà mentionnés, celui-ci est organisé par quartier. L’auteur s’intéresse à la géographie urbaine ainsi qu’à son tissu social. Elle nous fait découvrir la ville sous un autre angle. Bien sûr, certaines parties de la ville ont bien changées depuis 2003, mais ce guide est encore très valable.

  • Un guide Ulysse 2000 – 2001 de Montréal

Je suppose que beaucoup d’information sur l’hébergement, les restaurants, bars et commerces donnée dans ce livre n’est plus valide, mais pour l’information de nature historique et architecturale, ça tient la route. On propose 17 circuits à faire à pied et un autre à faire en voiture vers l’ouest de l’île.

Cet après-midi, j’avais une rencontre au centre-ville qui finissait vers 16h00. Je suis allée au Dorchester Square pour dessiner ensuite. J’ai trouvé un banc à l’ombre à l’arrière d’une statue représentant un soldat avec un cheval et je m’y suis mise… Le soldat a disparu de la statue et le cheval n’a pas tout à fait la même pose. J’ai aussi rencontré, Sharon, une femme âgée d’Edmonton qui traversait le Canada en voiture et on a eu une longue discussion sur les choses à voir au Canada. Les rencontres que je fais quand je dessine dans des endroits publics sont souvent très sympathiques.

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Gyrđir Elíasson, Les excursions de l’écureuil

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Gyrđir Elíasson n’est pas très grand, mince, le teint pâle, dans la cinquantaine, et il parle tout doucement quand il lit des extraits de son oeuvre en islandais. Il est un auteur prolifique reconnu dans son pays et un traducteur d’auteurs américains en islandais.

Ce livre, Les excursion de l’écureuil, est nouvellement traduit en français mais est son premier roman, qui a été publié en islandais en 1987.

Le livre est très court et je l’appellerais un conte plutôt qu’un roman. Au début, on accompagne un jeune garçon dans son quotidien et puis, il part à l’aventure et l’imaginaire prend le pas sur le réel. Qui est cet écureuil en excursion?

L’écriture est à la fois limpide et fragmentée, le reflet d’un très courte période d’attention, comme pour un enfant ou un écureuil.

La première phrase: “Des soleils de rêve me réveillent et l’espace d’un instant, je ne suis pas sûr d’être dans ce monde ou dans l’autre.” Cela nous donne tout de suite un indice sur le va-et-vient que le lecteur vivra entre la réalité et l’imaginaire.

J’ai lu ce livre avec plaisir, un moment d’émerveillement dans une semaine occupée.

J’ai rencontré l’auteur dans le cadre d’une soirée littéraire Québec-Islande à la Librarie Port-de-tête.

Référence:

Elíasson, Gyrđir. Les excursions de l’écureuil, Éditions La Peuplade, Chicoutimi, 2017.

Linden MacIntyre, The Only Café

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In my head, I keep calling this book “The Other Café”; I have no idea why.

Young Cyril Cormier is a budding journalist. His father died under mysterious circumstances some years ago. Well, the body was never found until a bone and a piece of jewellery are recovered by some fishermen. Cyril inherits his father’s journals and starts looking into his past. Pierre Cormier, born Haddad in Lebanon, came to Canada as a refugee in the early 80s, shortly after the Sabra and Shatila massacre. We know from flashbacks in the book that he lost his family in the Damour massacre and was involved with a gang led by Elie Hobeika (he is a real historical figure). Once in Canada, he becomes a corporate lawyer. Some trouble with an intervention at a worksite in Indonesia leads him to take a long vacation on his boat in Cape Breton. The boat blows up and his body is never found. There are hints that he might still be alive and covered up his disappearance.

Information into the mystery of who was Pierre Cormier and how much his family did not really know him is distilled slowly and artfully. We follow Cyril in his difficult relationships with his mother and stepmother, his trouble with his girlfriend, his growing engagement with his new job and colleagues, his increasing obsession over what happened to his father and the role of Ari, the odd Israeli that his father used to meet at The Only Café. Cyril seems to be convinced that he is involved in his father’s disappearance.

While the father and son are quite well fleshed out as characters, I felt like the mother and stepmother, as well as some of the secondary characters such as Cyril’s friends and co-workers lacked a bit of substance. We know relatively little of their backstory and they only remained bare outlines in my mind. It is fine that the odd Israeli remains a bit of a mystery though…

I would like a sequel for this book, to get to know some of the characters better, to see different turns and twists in the developing relationships between Cyril and his coworkers, to see him evolve professionally, and to see new clues about Pierre Cormier’s life and death come to life.

Note: There is a place called The Only Café on Danforth in Toronto. It just doesn’t look like I imagined it from the book.

This book will be published in August 2017 and can be pre-ordered in both e-book and hard cover, here: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/545973/the-only-cafe-by-linden-macintyre/9780345812063/.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for advance access to this book.

Reference:

MacIntyre, Linden. The Only Cafe. Random House, 2017.

Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend

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After a slow start, I greatly enjoyed this book and I look forward to continuing on with other volumes of the tetralogy. The first-person narrator is a woman writing about her childhood in a working class neighborhood of Naples. Well, everyone knows that… The chronology of events is not what held my attention the most, although of course I read the book for the story… But I really found fascinating was the description of social relationships, how people spoke to each other, the social stratification of the neighborhood, the underlying violence. Since my partner comes from a Mediterranean culture, there are some similarities but of course, these were also different times, post-war.

The narrator also talks about how her education was causing to see her environment with some detachment and to question the taken-for-grantedness of the situation. But that also made her wonder about what the future held for her… I guess I will find out.

Reference:

Ferrante, Elena. My Brilliant Friend. Europa Editions, 2012.

Patrick Modiano, L’herbe des nuits

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Quel bonheur cette lecture d’une histoire vague, de souvenirs lointains un peu brumeux, dans des rues parisiennes sombres! Jean, le narrateur de cette histoire qui n’en est pas une, se remémore des souvenirs de jeunesse, carnet noir à l’appui, rempli de notes décousues. Celles-ci ne parviennent pas totalement à éclairer les mystères de l’époque, l’identité et les faits et gestes de gens croisés à l’improviste, au hasard d’une relation de courte durée. Dannie, une jeune femme qu’on peut s’imaginer belle, qu’il l’a envoûté le temps d’une saison, dont il sut si peu…

Le rythme lent, au rythme d’un passant qui déambule dans Paris, s’arrête devant un immeuble pour en observer la façade, au rythme des répétitions, de souvenirs qui reviennent comme des refrains, comme si le livre était une longue mélodie, une chanson qui s’éteint doucement, plutôt que se finir sur un éclat de percussions.

Jean relate aussi les inquiétudes, au contact de personnages possiblement louches, dont on peut imaginer le pire. Jusqu’à une interrogation “amicale” des forces de l’ordre… Qui sera sans suites.

Le livre s’ouvre sur ce paragraphe, qui donne le ton,

Pourtant je n’ai pas rêvé. Je me surprends quelquefois à dire cette phrase dans le rue, comme si j’entendais la voix d’un autre. Une voix blanche. Des noms me reviennent à l’esprit, certains visages, certains détails. Plus personne avec qui en parler. Il doit bien se trouver deux ou trois témoins encore vivants. Mais ils ont sans doute tout oublié. Et puis, on finit par se demander s’il y a eu vraiment des témoins.

Comme si le narrateur doute lui même d’avoir été témoin. Pense avoir rêvé… Prend ses rêves pour des réalités…

J’ai jusqu’à maintenant lu deux romans de Modiano et les deux s’appuient sur de vieux documents, un carnet de notes et un vieux carnet téléphonique. S’agit-il d’un motif récurrent? J’ai l’édition Quarto de Gallimard. On verra bien.

Mon mari avait acheté L’herbe des nuits et s’est arrêté à la page 30. Il n’aimait pas ce livre… que j’ai adoré. L’histoire se continue; nous avons des goûts passablement différents.

Référence:

Modiano, Patrick. L’herbe des nuits. Gallimard, 2012.

Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing

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When I started this book, I was dismayed. I thought it was yet another book about the hardships of daily life in Communist China and I have read books about this theme before (a very good one though is June Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China).

In addition, I started getting lost amongst the many characters and the switches between locations and times. Blame it on fatigue the week I started the book because I usually don’t have trouble with non-linear storytelling. However, there is a point where I got hooked and could no longer put the book down.

What I could best relate to was the musical theme. One of the most likeable characters in the book, Sparrow, is a musician and composer who teaches at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. His music is in favor with the regime, so while it is, the family can live a relatively peaceful life. However, being in favor can only last so long and there is trouble ahead. Falling out of favor can be due to personal actions or characteristics, or it can happen at random when a whole group of people is designated as counter-revolutionary and targeted for punishment or re-education. This eventually happens to Sparrow and he is sent to another in the south to work in a radio factory.

While Sparrow is at the Conservatory, a young cousin, Zhuli, just a child, shows up at the door. Her parents, who were formerly prosperous landowners dispossessed of their land and house were sent to a labor camp and Zhuli was brought to Shanghai by someone from their village. Zhuli grows up playing the violin and attends the Conservatory. She is in Shanghai in turbulent times and encounters serious problems… Pianist Kai, one of her classmates who came from a less prosperous background, joins the revolutionary guards and survives a time of riots, social disorder and purges.

Kai ends up in Canada, marries and has a daughter called Marie who loves mathematics.

Sparrow eventually marries Ling and they have a daughter called Ai Ming. Sparrow continues working in the radio factory but Ling who works in radio broadcasting eventually is given a position in Beijing. Because Sparrow is not reassigned along her, he stays in the South and brings up Ai Ming. They see Ling once in a while. Their life is one of hard work for the parents and diligent studies for Ai Ming. As she gets older, she desires going to university and perceives Beijing University as being her best choice. Sparrow and Ling manage to bring both her and Sparrow to Beijing so they can obtain residency permits. With a residency permit, Ai Ming stands of better chance of admission.

This is counting without further turbulence in their troubled world. Student strikes are organized, as well as hunger strikes, and the standoff between students and government officials culminates in the Tiananmen Square events. Ai Ming, not being yet a student, is only peripherally involved but nevertheless gets in trouble with the authorities.

Ai Ming manages to make her way illegally out of China and arrives in Canada, to knock on the door of the apartment where Marie and her mother live. Her father left for Hong Kong there and dies there without having come back.

Now the interesting questions are:

Why does Ai Ming end up on Marie’s door step?

What was the nature of the relationship between Sparrow and Kai?

Why did Kai go to Hong Kong?

How and why did he die?

How does all this affect Marie?

What happens to Ai Ming in the end?

All very interesting to find out about… This novel is very intricate and the successive cause-and-effect actions that move the plot along are often far from obvious…

One character still somewhat eludes me (and maybe a reread might enlighten me) and it is the personality and motivations of Ling, Ai Ming’s mother. There are many characters in this novel that the reader gets to know quite well as we follow part of their path along with them, but in the case of Ling, it seems that we only get bits and pieces and the story is never told from her point of view. It might be interesting to re-imagine the story from Ling’s point of view…

I did not speak about “The Book of Records”, a hand-copied manuscript that plays a role both as a record of events and a way to transmit coded information…

While most characters in the novel seem to be fictitious, except for names government officials and members of the party’s elite, there is one character from real life and it is He Luting, the director of Shanghai Conservatory. In the novel, we hear of him being stripped of his position. However, in time, he did come back to the Conservatory and died in 1999 at the age of 95.

All in all, this novel was great fun to read and a great door into looking again into XXth century Chinese history. It was short listed for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and was awarded both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award in Canada in 2016.

References:

Thien, Madeleine. Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2016.

Chang, June. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Harper Collins, 1991.

Other things:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/He_Luting

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/review-do-not-say-we-have-nothing-cements-madeleine-thien-as-one-of-canadas-most-talented-novelists/article30385361/

https://thewritesofwoman.wordpress.com/2017/04/02/do-not-say-we-have-nothing-madeleine-thien/

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien #Bookerprize

‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ by Madeleine Thien

Tash Aw, Five Star Billionnaire

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A number of Malaysians seek fortune in China. They all go about it in different ways, with differing definitions of fortune, success, and happiness. We follow them through a number of challenges and we see how they resolve the problems they are faced with. These characters are complex and not always likeable, but I enjoyed finding out what the future held for them.

Take Phoebe, for example.  A young uneducated woman from a small village, she is an illegal in China, using a stolen identity card. She studies self-help books and the Internet to guide her in how to act and dress to seek fortune in China, and especially to find a rich husband. She goes from dressing provocatively (“like a prostitute”) in order to catch a rich man to adopting the demeanor of a young business woman (and is henceforth ashamed of formerly having followed the wrong advice about attire). After a number of encounters with men who do not meet her criteria, she meets a young businessman in a cafe. She has with her a “good quality” counterfeit Louis Vuitton bag, which the young man disappears with when her back is turned. Her luck seems to turn when she meets Walter but there may be some surprises in store.

And don’t believe that Phoebe gets manipulated only because of her lack of education… An experienced business woman with an English university education enters into a business deal with the same Walter only to find out he siphons off the funds she has just borrowed from the bank to purchase a large derelict building they are planning to repurpose in Shanghai.

And no, it’s not only women that meet these misfortunes…

So, there is quite a lot of fun to be had following the meanders of this novel, where chapter titles read like business advice.

Reference:

Aw, Tash. Five Star Billionnaire. Penguin Canada, 2013.

Other things:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/mar/08/five-star-billionaire-tash-aw-review

http://www.npr.org/2013/07/05/195178259/five-star-billionaire-shows-the-human-cost-of-progress

http://www.popmatters.com/column/182076-invisible-factory-billionaire/