In the past couple of weeks, I had the fortune to lay my hands on Readopolis, the English version of Quebec writer Bertrand Laverdure’s 2007 novel Lectodome, translated into English by Oana Avasilichioaei (Toronto: BookThug, 2017). The prose, in its new suit of language, drew me in with its droll humor, almost a Galician retranca (an irony-sarcasm that can be difficult to detect as it is subtle). It’s a thoroughly engaging portrait of a marginally employed contract reader of manuscripts for a literary publishing house who, while working to determine Quebec literature itself with his yeses and nos, is also obliged to supplement his meagre income by working in a convenience store, selling cigarettes, junk food, and beer. You can already see the humor here! Basically, the protagonist trades in literature and other things that wreak chaos on the immune system. Readopolis is at times a panorama of Montreal literary culture, at times a condemnation of the precarity and banality of cultural economies, at times a rich homage to friends and to hope, as well as to the wonders of the act of reading itself. Avasilichioaei captures the mad hilarities of Laverdure’s style perfectly; in a way it seems to fit even better in English than in French, and Readopolis, published 10 years after the original French, seems absolute current, as if the book were written for now (though refreshingly, it lacks smart phones and their screens!). Readopolis makes me remember, hilariously, why I am both sick of literature and irrevocably in love with reading it.
Readopolis made me want to dive back into another Montreal novel with manic characters and a jumpy pace, and beautiful prose, which —despite its publisher having closed down long ago— remains an underground classic in Canada. Robert Majzels’s City of Forgetting (Toronto: Mercury Press, 1998) also houses a gang of eclectic poverty-stricken daydreamers—from Clytemnestra to Che Guevara to a street punk named Suzy—who are in themselves homages to reading and revolution, and who wander the streets of 1990s Montreal (which exists on land stolen from Indigenous people) trying to foment feminism, dissensus, and More Life. You can buy City on Amazon.ca from Majzels himself; it seems the author scooped up some copies when the publishing house went under.
Beside City of Forgetting, I spotted Louky Bersianik’s Maternative (Montreal: VLB, 1980) on my bookshelf and pulled it out to read again. Bersianik, a feminist Quebec writer of a foundational generation of Quebec feminists who altered our relationship to the word and its possibilities, dreamed large in her works. In an era of North American writing, the 70s and 80s, when the thinking of women writers was still derided by male critics as small, she reclaimed a big experimental and avant-garde space for motherhood and thinking in this book, which employs theatre, poetry, prose fiction, journals, to create a world of touch and proximity that includes pregnancy, motherhood, craziness — and also is collaborative: it includes acid-etchings by artist Jean Letarte. Oh, and it’s in French!
My last two books are poetry, a 1955 Galician classic (NW of Spain), Uxío Novoneyra’s Os Eidos, which I’d call The Uplands… and which I aim to translate in the next two years. It’s a book from a major 20th century poet in the Galician language, one that potentates an intense love of naming, of words that might be lost from a language, and is a habitation as well, of the natural world and a realization of how small a human is in that world, and how a human moves in that world, in harmony with trees and mountains, snow and skies. Amazing. Along with that (yes, I just returned from Galicia!), an exciting new work, Camuflaxe by Galician poet Lupe Gómez, rooted in a kind of documentary poetics that is being mined fruitfully and variously in both European and Americanadian cultures (thinking Daniel Tiffany’s The Work-Shy here, among others): Camuflaxe is a work of musicality and of place, time, and the mother, as the mother is gently but fiercely dying, a work whose camouflage slowly falls away. It’s a homage to a language and a history and a human life. I’d love to translate it too…