6 translations to anticipate for 2016
≈ by J.C. Sutcliffe
Top of my list has to be Catherine Leroux’s The Party Wall (Biblioasis, trans. Lazer Lederhendler). I was already looking forward to reading 2014’s Prix France-Québec winner; Leroux’s latest, Madame Victoria, made me even more impatient for The Party Wall.
Madame Victoria is inspired by the true story of a body discovered on Mount Royal, nicknamed Victoria, and never identified. Leroux imagines a whole host of different Victorias, all vivid and all at odds with the world in one way or another. The publisher’s description suggests The Party Wall will be another display of Leroux’s ability to meld an incredible cast of characters with subtle political commentary.
From the publisher:
Catherine Leroux’s brilliant second novel – though first to be translated into English – shuffles between, and eventually ties together, stories about siblings joined in surprising ways. A woman in northern New Bunswick learns that she absorbed her twin sister’s body in the womb, and that she has two sets of DNA; a Mexican American brother and sister in San Francisco unite, as their mother dies, to search for their long-lost father; a little girl in the deep South pushes her sister out of the way of a speeding train and loses her legs; and a political couple learn – after the husband is elected Prime Minister in a chaotic future Canada – that they are non-identical twins separated at birth.
Reminiscent of the novels of Tom Robbins and David Mitchell, with perhaps a dash of Thomas Pynchon, The Party Wall establishes Leroux as one of North America’s most intelligent and innovative young authors.
The Goddess of Fireflies, Geneviève Pettersen’s debut novel (Esplanade/Véhicule, trans. Neil Smith) has been much praised since its publication in French in 2014, in step with a welcome trend of younger Quebec authors who bring an urban sensibility to small-town life. The Goddess is already being made into a film by Inch’Allah director (and highly regarded author) Anaïs Barbeau-Lavallette. The combination of a teenage protagonist and Saguenay slang was no doubt an interesting challenge for the translator, Neil Smith, but the results should be impressive given that Smith’s own fiction crackles with idiomatic language.
From the publisher:
A modern coming-of-age story for a generation. The year is 1996, and small-town life for 14-year-old Catherine is made up of punk rock, skaters, shoplifting, and the ghost of Kurt Cobain. Her parents are too busy divorcing to pay her headful of unspent angst much attention. But after she tries mess – a PCP variant – for the first time, her budding rebellion begins to spiral out of control.
Universally acclaimed as the modern-day coming-of-age story for a generation of Québécois youth growing up in the 1990s, Géneviève Pettersen’s award-winning debut novel both shocked and titillated readers in its original French, who quickly ordained it a contemporary classic and a runaway bestseller.
I’ve only read one of Martine Delvaux books, last year’s Blanc dehors, an autofictional novel based around the author’s growing up without a father, or even the knowledge of his identity. Delvaux’ third novel, The Stuntman of Love (Linda Leith, trans. David Homel), will appear in English this year. Her writing is incisive and insightful, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she handles this love story – or more accurately its autopsy – between a Quebec woman and a Czech man.
From the French-language publisher:
He left her life in ruins. The initial delirium of love and passion deteriorated into conflict, then war. But she is convinced she’s in the middle of a big story, the story of her life. Stuntmen of love aren’t permitted a stand-in, but she has written this book — one last missive sent to the front, the battlefield of their breakup.
In her third novel, Martine Delvaux draws together the frayed clichés of love in a book that is belligerent, angry and liberating. A book that reconciles the accounts of failed love.
In June Christian Guay-Poliquin’s much-praised debut novel, Running on Fumes, will be published by Talonbooks in Jacob Homel’s translation. The consensus among reviewers is that it’s a lyrical blend of the contemporary and the classico-mythical, with a generous helping of road movie. And that English-language cover is intriguing…
From the publisher:
When the electricity inexplicably goes out nationwide, the mundanities of life gradually shift to the rigours of survival. In this post-apocalyptic setting, an unnamed mechanic jumps into his beat-up car and drives east, journeying 4,736 kilometers to reach his dying father.
As the narrator’s journey becomes one of essentials – gasoline, water bottles, and gas-station food – and as the crisis engulfing his surroundings begins to weigh on him ever more, he seeks refuge in a woman, and later, with a fellow traveler he meets on the road. These two kindred souls join him on his path, though they seem to seek a different sort of redemption.
Running on Fumes is a road novel that carries with it influences of the genre, with their storylines of redemption through distance travelled, often in a failing world that reflects the protagonist’s interior. The line that delineates whether the world is reflecting the narrator’s state or whether the narrator’s mindset is reflected by the world is hazy, and there remains a level of uncertainty on the truths the narrator speaks.
Last but not least, a bonus two-for-one, because it’s so exciting and encouraging to have a whole new publisher specializing in Quebec literature in English translation. Baraka Books’ brand-new imprint, QC Fiction, will publish David Clerson’s Brothers as one of its first two titles.
From the publisher:
Frères won the Grand prix littéraire Archambault 2014 and is an original piece of fiction, steeped in myth and fable, a reflection of our own familiar surroundings in a distorting mirror, a world of “monstrous creatures, bigger than anything they could imagine, two-headed fish, turtles with shells as huge as islands, whales with mouths big enough to swallow up whole cities.”
The whole is seen through the eyes of two brothers, the elder brother missing an arm, the younger fashioned by his mother from that arm. The plot is both simple and unbelievable as the two brothers set out on an adventure in search of their “dog of a father,” while the narrative increasingly threatens to turn into at least a bad dream, if not a descent into madness.
The other QC Fiction book already announced is the fascinating Bestiaire, by ludic Quebec writer Eric Dupont, translated as Life In the Court of Matane by Peter McCambridge. Intriguingly, this isn’t the only translation appearing this year to feature Nadia Comaneci, the other being Lola Lafon’s The Little Communist Who Never Smiled.
From the publisher:
Nadia Comaneci’s gold-medal performance at the Olympic Games in Montreal is the starting point for a whole new generation. Eric Dupont watches the performance on TV as a kid growing up in the depths of the Quebec countryside. His parents have divorced, and the novel’s narrator relates his childhood, comparing it to a family gymnastics performance worthy of Nadia herself.
And so we discover what it was like growing up in Dupont’s Cold War Quebec. Life in the “Court of Matane” is unforgiving and we explore different facets of it (dreams of sovereignty, schoolyard bullying, imagined missions to Russia, poems by Baudelaire), each based around an encounter with a different animal, until the narrator befriends a great horned owl, summons up the courage to let go of the upper bar forever, and makes his glorious escape.
The number of books that make the journey from Quebec to the rest of Canada and the anglophone world may be small, but this year’s selection is very high calibre, with these and many more titles well worth checking out. ≈