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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > July August 2016 > Fall preview 2016: Fiction

Fall preview 2016: Fiction


Québécois reveries


IN THE May 26, 2015, issue of The New Yorker, writer Pasha Malla mused about the status of French-to-English translations in Canada. The occasion was a review of Maxime Raymond Bock’s short-story collection, Atavisms (which was a Q&Q Book of the Year for 2015). But Malla began his piece with a broad overview of what he perceived to be the historically marginal fate of writing in translation throughout English Canada. “Despite tapering enmities,” he wrote, “the dynamic between Canada’s Francophone and Anglophone communities remains less one of cohesion than indifference and estrangement.”

“Indifference and estrangement” seem like good words to describe a category that sells in roughly the same numbers as poetry (i.e., not a lot). This is particularly true of a writer like Bock, whom Malla rightly describes as “fiercely Québécois.” Atavisms is a suite of stories that takes exception to the displacement of French-Canadian culture over the course of the country’s history: it references touchstones such as the battle of the Plains of Abraham and the 1970 October Crisis, and uses a son’s monologue to his terminally ill father as a metaphor for a society that has been systematically starved of oxygen by the dominant linguistic force in the nation.

Bock’s novel Des lames de pierre also features a dying father – or, in this case, a father figure: a minor poet named Robert Lacerte, who serves as a mentor of sorts to the novel’s first-person narrator. It falls to the narrator to care for the poet after the older man descends into the final stages of cancer.

“Quebec literature in general is doing very well”

Atavisms was published by the U.S. small press Dalkey Archive; this time around, Bock has a homegrown publisher, Coach House Books, which will bring out the novel in October, under the title Baloney. (Both books were translated by Pablo Strauss.)

“About the English translation of Quebec books in general,” Bock writes in an email, “things seem to me like they are doing well right now.” Like Malla, Bock points to Kim Thúy winning the 2015 edition of Canada Reads with her novel Ru, and also mentions Samuel Archibald being shortlisted for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize for the English translation of his story collection, Arvida. “Quebec literature in general is doing very well in the last 10–15 years,” Bock says. “Strong young authors and dynamic young publishers. And it’s starting to show a little bit outside.”

This optimism seems to be catching on: July also sees the publication of the inaugural title in QC Fiction’s line of translations (see review, p. 39). And it is writers like Bock who are leading the way.

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