Le Quartanier is one of the most exciting publishers in Quebec today, home to a growing roster of often young writers. The books cut a wide swathe, yet there is coherence: every title shares something, but it’s very hard to put a finger on what that something is.
The Nova series, released to celebrate Le Quartanier’s tenth birthday, is ten pocket-sized novellas with gorgeous three-colour covers by Catherine D’Amours of the Pointbarre collective. Available individually or in a limited-edition boxed set, these books are a welcome treat for Le Quartanier’s fans and a great way to discover ten authors and a publisher that’s always worth watching. ≈
Quinze pour cent, by Samuel Archibald
I STARTED READING Quinze pour cent on the plane. A short twenty-minute hop later, I was already halfway through. I slipped it into the back pocket of my jeans on the way to my connecting flight, and turned the last page right after the captain switched off the seatbelt sign. Talk about a great format for reading on the go.
Samuel Archibald’s foray into the police procedural makes for a stimulating read. Inspector Mario Leroux answers the call to a home invasion gone horribly wrong at a remote cottage by Lac Saint-Jean. In spite of Leroux’s paranoia of losing his memory – every morning he has to remind himself of who he is, where he’s from, and what his girlfriend does for a living – his instinct for sniffing out guilt and innocence never fails. Needless to say, it doesn’t take him long to figure out what happened and who is responsible. What else is there to say about Leroux? Woe betide any officer on his team who entertains a theory. Leroux is an old-school, methodical detective who gets things done through good old-fashioned legwork. With Quinze pour cent, Archibald injects a healthy dose of humour and artful description into a mere 68 pages. If reading a full-length detective novel were a good night’s sleep, this would be a power nap: just enough to keep you going and whet your appetite for more.
- David Warriner
Rosemont de profil, by Raymond Bock
For the next decade or two Sylvain plods on, working out what he wants to do in a rambling, haphazard way and nurturing a feeling somewhere between indifference and bitterness about life. After being convinced by his family to join Facebook, he reports, “My virtual friends were no more numerous than my real friends, of which I had precisely none.” One day Julien sends him a friend request and then invites him for dinner. Sylvain soon regrets accepting. Travelling through the old neighbourhood to Julien’s house, he puts off their meeting as long as possible. The ending takes an unexpected turn that focuses on neither of the men but puts into high relief the sheer raw emotion of the narrator, which here breaks through the artful tone of the rest of the story and with great skill leaves the reader feeling, uncomfortably, like a voyeur.
- J.C. Sutcliffe
Les mines générales, by Daniel Grenier
This book isn’t about the story, which travels well-worn, even sentimental paths. It’s about the narrator, who we come to see for what he is, mostly through his speech. In taking in the family and offering help he seems to exhibit the best of intentions, but we soon see that he’s driven by his own personal quest to be immersed in an adopted culture. As readers we go along for the ride as his long-cherished dream comes true, since, joy of joys, the family takes him to spend the Holidays with them in Brazil. “It smelled like coconuts, and toucans, and ice-cold Brahma.” Between his superficiality and his desire to experience his deepest passion, the narrator brings us on board for a journey to the end of this all-consuming fervor. It’s a great read, proof that Grenier has the talent to go far. Or as his narrator would proudly say, legal, man, it’s all legal.
- Josée-Anne Paradis (trans. P.S.)
À la morte saison, by David Leblanc
BLEAK. CALCULATED. APOCALYPTIC. POETIC. David Leblanc’s À la morte saison is all of these things. Dense, too: it feels much longer than its 38 pages. And yet not much happens. The novella opens with a bold “The explosion tore half his face off” and that’s pretty much that in terms of the action.
It’s not the destination that counts, we’ve all learned. Getting there is part of the fun. In this short book, from the outset we know that what follows is nothing more than one long “What if?” So there better be plenty to see as we look out the window along the way, right?
As it happens, we get to see a corpse staggering through a desolate landscape. Or rather what we imagine would happen were the corpse to stand up and strike out for the “stinking city” ahead of him, a bird of prey circling above acting as a rare “encouraging” sign of life along the way. Sentence fragments, ideas, and uncommon words echo throughout the book. Matter-of-fact sentences mix with a much higher register. The effect is destabilizing, with the odd back-and-forth between first- and third-person narrative. As readers, it often feels as though we’re on a gruelling journey where it’s one step forward, two steps back.
- Peter McCambridge
L’été 95, by Sophie Létourneau
IN L’ÉTÉ 95, Sophie Létourneau’s protagonist, Sara, returns to Quebec City after a long absence. She’s been abroad, living in Japan, working as a journalist, and now she’s back with a cameraman, Tetsuo, to cover the student protests. As she takes him on a tour of the capital city’s sites, Tetsuo asks her, “Is Quebec foreign or home to you?” Sara, who is half-Japanese, half-Québécoise, answers, “Both.”
The duality present in Sara’s character is echoed in the book’s narrative as its chapters flutter back and forth between past and present. We trace the course of Sara’s memories as she travels through the city and along the Saint Lawrence, outwardly acting as informal guide to Tetsuo, inwardly unravelling accounts of her adolescence. While the aspects of her story are certainly compelling in their present tense, there is a gripping vivacity to Sara’s recollections. Sara details such teen exploits as skipping school, taking acid, and sneaking into bars in sequences as lyrically succinct as prose poems.
It soon becomes evident that these episodes, addressed to a “you,” serve as a kind of in memoriam: Sara’s memories reconstruct or resurrect her friendship with a girl she loved, who died. “It’s the summer of ‘95. Nothing is broken yet. You’re still alive, dangerously alive.”
- Melissa Bull
Royauté, by Alexie Morin
IMPRESSIONISTIC to stream-of-consciousness, dark to disturbing. Rhythmic prose, polished and smoothed. A filmmaker, fandom, obsession. Events accrete but don’t add up. Sex, violence. Wasps. A city. A country childhood, loggers and mechanics, runaway, wrong turn, run, woods, caught, crushing blow. Tears. Little structure, more flux; feeling, mood, tone – shrouded in a haze. Royalty.
- Pablo Strauss
Ristigouche, by Éric Plamondon
RISTIGOUCHE FEELS at once familiar and deeper than all of us. Éric Plamondon, author of the award-winning novels that make up 1984, here offers up a short, bittersweet delight that is something of an antidote to the relentless tour de force of his trilogy.
Ristigouche is the story of a man at a crossroads who heads to the mouth of the Restigouche River in the Baie des Chaleurs to go salmon fishing for the first time—because “to be a real fisherman, you had to catch a salmon at least once in your life.” His wife gone and his mother buried, Pierre must face the semi-metaphorical whale that traps him. He must face his indolence; “he could have stayed in bed all day. With this whale on his plexus, he didn’t have much of a choice.”
The novella’s biblical undertones are subtle – we all feel biblical in our grief – and counterpointed with history and lore, from a failed last-ditch attempt to save North America for France, all white flags and shipwrecks, to a pillage-happy Acadian governor, to the story of a Mi’kmaq girl who dips her finger in the water each morning to call the white whales, and with interspersed verses of folk song.
Back in the land of reality, the quest becomes saving a beached beluga at the mouth of the titular river. Ristigouche is about redemption; it is full of doubt, it is about whom we come from and where we drop anchor. Kudos to Le Quartanier for the small, good bite – the novella feels whole, and Plamondon, as always, both luminous and satisfyingly shadowy.
- Katia Grubisic
Les singes de Gandhi, by Patrick Roy
READING THE OPENING pages of Patrick Roy’s Les singes de Gandhi is as close as one can possibly get to stepping off a plane and into the teeming, sweating, crackling streets of Mumbai. It’s a commonplace that books transport us “into the thick of the action,” but nowhere have I experienced this more profoundly than here.
Roy effortlessly guides us through a month-long trip to India, beginning with a short stint in Mumbai (smelly and crowded), down to the beaches of Goa (Eden on Earth), a short flight up to Jaipur (worth it for the monkeys), then over to Bharatpur (don’t bother), stopping in Agra (for the Taj Mahal), and ending in Delhi. The narrator spends less time describing how he spends each day than he does on the people he spends them with: Radu the taxi driver, Matthew the watier, Picazz the shopkeeper, Seera the king of the monkeys.
Read Les singes de Gandhi for its dazzling descriptions. Read it as if you were an explorer or an anthropologist. But give it a pass if you’re looking for escape or think “Heck, I’d love to go to India one day.” Because based on this account, I’m not so sure Patrick Roy would go back.
- Arielle Aaronson
La raison vient à Carolus, by David Turgeon
AS HIS BASEMENT floods and his plumber tarries, our unnamed narrator rescues boxes containing the “archives” of his childhood friend Carolus. It’s a compelling frame – who hasn’t sifted through forgotten mementos, piecing together the past from a handful of fragments?
The novella is mostly a description of Carolus’s unpublished, unfinished works. One posits a theory – “every book was part of a larger whole, which we don’t know how to decipher” – that aptly describes both the task at hand and a life of reading more generally. Turgeon’s influences are on display, from Pessoa who provides the epigraph to Borges who looms large, but a suburban setting and contemporary references make this story feel very much of its time and place. Carolus strikes the right balance and pulls the right number of strings for a book of its length. The narrator’s inquest unearths truths of dubious veracity about the mysterious Carolus and his own childhood and youth, and friendship and love, with death always hovering just in the background. In this fallen world, he wonders, hadn’t they at least managed to put something on paper that might transcend time? But what?
- Pablo Strauss
Les familles combattent le fascisme!, by Jacob Wren
trans. Christophe Bernard
WHAT HAPPENS to an average nuclear family when a conspiracy theorist moves into the basement? In Les familles combattent le fascisme! paranoia spreads like a mould. None of the family members, who take turns narrating, are quite the same after, though it seems to take very little to turn their lives upside down.
Jacob Wren’s novella is in many ways the odd-man-out in the Nova series. It’s the only translation (from English, with no apparent hitches). It is more political than personal. And it feels more like a play than a novella – one that must be very funny in the right actors’ hands. The humour comes through on the page, somewhat understated, and those amenable to conspiracy theories may find themselves slapping the table in agreement as they read. The story moves rapidly along and ends with a twist. You won’t look at the unmarked white van across from your house the same way again.
- Pablo Strauss