a review by Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo
Juliette, the 22-year-old narrator of Ce qu’il en reste, has left her parents’ home after her brother Nicholas’ suicide. She now lives in a two-room apartment in Montreal’s Plateau district where she devotes herself to painting in the hope that she can make a career of it. One bitter night, she goes to her local bar and meets brother and sister Olivier and Rose, twins who leave her bewitched. Homeless under questionable circumstances, the twins take refuge with “Mauve,” the pseudonym Juliette has chosen for herself. Also sharing this makeshift living arrangement are one small dog; Étienne, Mauve’s neighbour and erstwhile lover who helps share the costs of living; and a diplomat’s wife the group rescues after she is violently attacked and loses her memory.
Love and friendship are at the heart of this first novel from filmmaker Julie Hivon, and the relationships formed between the twenty-something protagonists take precedence over any familial bonds they may have had. Together, they struggle to shape their own lives, become financially independent, and make peace with painful events, while reaching toward a future that offers no guarantees – thus making something whole out of what’s left (ce qu’il en reste) of their pasts.
Also essential is the concept of personal freedom. Mauve wants to live according to her own values and principles; she wants to live outside the norm. But she also has to confront the difficult question of how an artist can maintain her integrity while also satisfying the demands of the art-buying public. “Collectors love money; I love this canvas. Under each brushstroke covering it with paint, there’s a breath, a wound. There’s the love I feel for Rose and Olivier, there’s my brother who dies every single day, my mother who is buried alive, my dog, who I like more than I like a whole lot of humans. There’s all of me and the people I love… I will never sell this painting, I’ll give it to someone who will one day stop in front of it and see himself there.”
Author Julie Hivon says, “Film, like literature, is writing. Only film involves images, and literature, words. But for me, it’s the same pleasure, the same energy that moves me to write.” ≈
From Ce qu’il en reste
by Julie Hivon
≈ translated by Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo
The telephone woke everyone up. It was ringing like crazy, and I couldn’t find it amid the empty bottles and jars of paint. Naturally I stuck my foot into a container of dirty water, which poured out onto a piece of watercolour paper. I muttered “damn it” through clenched teeth. I don’t often use swear words, but if the telephone continued to split my eardrums, I was going to spew out a whole litany of curses.
The phone was in the sink. It figured. I picked up and had one of those moments where you see the future in a single flash: I knew it was my mother at the other end of the line, and I regretted having answered before I’d even said “Hello.”
“Darling, you’re still among the living!?”
“Wait a second while I check…”
I thought I was being funny. I looked around at the apocalyptic state of my studio.
“Yep, I’m still alive, even hell couldn’t be this big a mess.”
“Are you being humorous, dear?”
“I try to take life with a grain of salt…”
“Do you need money? Your father and I thought you might need some money…”
“It’s okay, Mother, I’m managing…”
“Oh yes, how so?”
“I take back my empty bottles… Did you call for any particular reason?”
“Merry Christmas, darling!”
Silence. My first thought was “It’s not really Christmas.” I glanced out the window and saw the multi-coloured lights on the tree out front. It was actually possible that it was Christmas: there was snow and decorations. I was badly looking like the morning after the night before.
“Merry Christmas, Mom.”
“Darling, did you forget? What planet are you living on?”
“I don’t know. Christmas is made for people who have money to spend.”
“You know, darling, your father and I… We love you.”
A wave of bubbly sentimentality suddenly flooded my sink. I assumed she was going to talk to me about Nicholas. It had happened one year ago today. I did not want to know, I did not want to remember! Why had I answered the phone? I felt warm, salty water slide down my cheeks. Damn.
“I love you too… I’m just a bit… distracted these days.”
“Your father and I thought you should be with us today… particularly… We think about him.”
“I don’t want to think about him, Mom.”
“It’s not good for you to be angry at him, my dear. It will destroy you.”
After a pause, she added, “I hope you’re not angry with us.”
“I’m not angry with anyone.”
My voice trembled. I looked for a handkerchief and ended up grabbing the dishtowel. Oh well.
“Darling, why don’t you come to the house tonight? I made meat pie… There’s turkey too. Aunt Yvette is coming by with your cousin André. It would be so much nicer if you were there. Your father isn’t angry, you know, he’d really like you to come too.”
“I don’t know, I have guests…”
“Him… and two other people… I feel like being with them. And besides, you know I can barely stand the atmosphere at home… Have you redone his room?”
“Darling, why don’t you come with your friends?”
“I don’t know, Mom.”
“We won’t ask questions…”
She hesitated a little before adding, “Juliette, you must come…”
Her tone was not so much authoritative as it was desperate. Her voice had broken and I heard her sobbing softly at the other end of the line. I knew I’d pushed her to the limit. All that lovely confidence in the calm and patient teacher’s magnificent voice had melted away like a snowman under the sunny April sky. Merry Christmas, Mother…
I could just picture it. My father crying all alone, drinking scotch in Nicholas’ room, which remained exactly as it had been one year earlier. He opens all the drawers in search of a letter he hadn’t noticed before. He has drawn the curtains. Mother wanted to go to the cottage for vacation. Mother wanted to move, but he wanted to stay. He clings to his unhappiness as if it were a buoy on the sea of his strangled emotions. He studies the carpet, looking for something to explain his son’s fatal action, and each time he raises his eyes to the ceiling, he sees the rope hanging from the beam again. I, too, saw it again as I had seen it every day since then, except for the past two months, since Rose and Olivier.
I did not want to subject my friends to this sad spectacle. And I did not want to leave my friends, not even for a night. What if they up and disappeared? I sometimes asked myself if they were real. I believed I could very well have made them up. When I looked at all the portraits I’d done of them, which now adorned my cramped apartment, it actually seemed more likely that they had come out of me than that they had come into my home. My mother was still waiting for my response at the other end of the line.
“I’ll talk to them about it.”
“So you’ll call me back?”
It took a great effort for her to say that. She didn’t believe I would: I never called back and I never went there. I hadn’t been back since… since I had taken Nicholas’ lifeless body down from where it had been hanging from the beam of the ceiling. Damn.
“I won’t call back, I’ll just come.”
She had trouble believing me. I tried to be convincing. I had to get used to the idea myself.
“Really. I’ll see you later, Mom.”
I hung up. I wiped my nose on the dishtowel. By God, I really was crying! As I turned around, I noticed Rose sitting cross-legged on the kitchen table. She looked at me with compassion, her exquisite head tilted to the right. She chewed on her lipstick. I was embarrassed that she had caught me crying.
There was no need to answer; it wasn’t really a question anyway.
“You can’t get out of it this time, eh?”
“No, I don’t think…”
I wanted to talk about something else. I was going to paint her like that, sitting on the kitchen table, surrounded by all the portraits of her, each one grey and black and red.
“We’ll go with you.”
I was stunned. She had said it so calmly, with such determination. No, I didn’t want to impose this on them.
“I don’t want to inflict this on you.”
“We’re inflicting ourselves on you.”
“You don’t know what it’s like…”
“We’ve had our own share of family secrets, you know.”
“I can’t do it to you…”
“You’re not doing anything to us. We’re doing it and that’s final.”
I wasn’t able to argue very long. She stared at me with her eyes, black inside and all around. She pursed her lips. She smiled a monster’s smile. Sitting like that, she looked like a little Buddha: solid as a rose carved in ebony, soft as a piece of onyx buried under the ocean. She took my hand in her terribly white hand. She wiped my nose with the dishtowel. There, she had turned me into a child, she had her way with me and I gave myself up to it completely.
“Merry Christmas, Mauve…”
She tousled my hair. Together we rushed into the other part of the room and played leapfrog over the torpid bodies of our two companions. They shifted a little; Étienne emerged from under the covers and tried to grab my legs. He made me fall backwards on top of him and started to tickle me. We laughed like children, like innocents.
There we were, running around the apartment, jumping over all the obstacles, throwing things at our rivals in order to disqualify them. Mina gaily frisked about, causing one disaster after another. Olivier lifted her off the ground and kissed her ears. He tossed her plastic hoop to the other end of the room. Mina loved this game. She loved having one of us try to pry the toy out of her mouth and she growled with pleasure. All five of us played like kids left to their own devices. In the end, we fell one on top of the other, exhausted. Étienne was on the bottom of the pile and he groused a bit. Rose toppled to one side. I was on top of Olivier, and I had no desire to peel myself off of him. He didn’t move either, he stroked my thigh with his forefinger. Rose got up and said:
“Hop to it, everybody up! Let’s get dressed…”
Étienne always needed a good reason to put on clothes.
“Because the four of us have an appointment with a meat pie…”
“Is that true, Mauve?”
Étienne couldn’t get over it. I felt uncomfortable.
“You don’t have to come.”
“Of course we’re coming.”
Olivier’s tone left no room for argument. It warmed my heart. Obviously, we’d have to dig our clothes out from under this happy mess first. Then I’d have to remember the road that leads to my parent’s place, but we’d get there. And all four of us would soon find ourselves in a hell stuffed with turkey and good intentions. ≈