This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with people who are closely involved with Quebec literature on a daily basis as we continue to talk to publishers, readers, bookstore owners, and translators to get a feel for today’s publishing scene in Quebec.
Born in 1970, Eric Dupont lives and works in Montreal. He has published 5 novels with Marchand de feuilles and in France with Éditions du Toucan and Éditions J’ai lu (Flammarion). He is a past winner of Radio-Canada’s “Combat des livres” (the equivalent of the CBC’s Canada Reads contest), a finalist for the Prix littéraire France-Québec and the Prix des cinq continents, and a winner of the Prix des libraires and the Prix littéraire des collégiens. Songs for the Cold of Heart is his fourth novel and his second to be published in English with QC Fiction. It was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Translation and the Giller Prize.
What is your relationship to Quebec writing?
I’m a writer, but above all a reader, of Quebec literature. I’ve been reading Quebec books since I learned how to read. The first book I was given was a children’s book by Gabrielle Roy that told the story of a little girl who got a cow as a gift for her eighth birthday. I still remember how everything seemed perfectly familiar to me as I read that book, despite the fact that everything took place in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, thousands of kilometres from where I grew up. It was otherness in its most basic form. Sometimes Quebec literature charms me with its originality and its ability to thumb its nose at propriety. Sometimes it gets on my nerves. Just like Quebec. But it’s my home. Sometimes I get on my own nerves, too.
What, if anything, would you say defines Quebec literature?
I used to think I knew, but now I think I know less and less. I know there was, for a time, a desire to be authentic, to show things the way we see them, to say we’re here now. Then we wanted to speak to the world as we dressed up in the clothes we’d burned in the 1970s. But for a number of years now I’ve been remarking in the style of some novels a preoccupation with authenticity that reminds me of my childhood, a time of affirmation by staking a claim to a form of language that belongs to Quebec authors alone. I don’t know if the authors who belong to this wave of neo-authenticists are aware of what they’re reminding older generations of. Perhaps they’d say they’ve got nothing at all to do with all that. I’m hope they’re right, because otherwise it means we’re turning in circles.
And, well, I’ll just come out and say it. I think that Quebec literature often revolves around men. Men with very important things to proclaim urbi et orbi! Sometimes these men talk about their mothers. Sometimes they have wives or girlfriends who don’t understand them. But most of the time they’re just amazed to be alive.
When women take the place that’s currently not theirs in Quebec literature, perhaps we’ll have a better idea of our literary possibilities. But I could be wrong.
What excites you most in the books you read?
Leaving reality behind.
What are some of the most important novels and books to come out of Quebec, in your view?
Ooph! OK. Here goes…
Pélagie-la-Charrette made me cry with nostalgia for a land I never knew. I know I’m supposed to be talking about Quebec literature, but Pélagie is just so good. I don’t know wherever it got its reputa— oh, hang on a minute, yes I do: it won the Goncourt!
Les Chroniques du Plateau Mont-Royal (The Chronicles of Plateau Mont-Royal). Once again, I saw myself reflected in this world, even though I didn’t know Montreal at the time. The characters spoke and reacted like adults I’d known. But of all Michel Tremblay’s books, I think it’s Le Cœur découvert (The Heart Laid Bare) that touched me most. I know it’s not his best and that very educated people who know a lot about wine have spoken badly of it. But I was seventeen when I read it. I was gay and living in Matane in 1987. My father was a policeman. Just try that for size. I was sure there was something wrong with me and that it needed treated right away. Michel Tremblay gave me more than answers to my angst, he offered the possibility of a world I could live in.
I know that Réjean Ducharme’s books are super important because cégep teachers thrust them on students who wouldn’t have read them otherwise. Since I didn’t go to cégep, I have yet to read them. Whenever people talk about them, which happens very often, I smile, agree politely, my every ‘yes’ is full of solemn intensity. In fact, right after this interview, I think I’m going to sign up with the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal and fall in step with the rest of my province.
What are some of your favourite pieces of Quebec writing?
Jacques Poulin’s books. All of them. Never a word more than is necessary. They always leave me with so many unanswered questions. They plunge me into some sort of existential void, a place where I’m incredibly alone. I think they’ve been translated into English.
And Gabrielle Roy’s books, Alexandre Chenevert, in particular. He’s a character we quickly become attached to. I think all of Gabrielle Roy’s books have been translated, except maybe Ma vache Bossie, the book I was given when I was seven years old.
What is the favourite book you’ve written?
La logeuse. I don’t think I’ve ever written as freely since.
If you were to recommend that someone who has never read anything from Quebec pick up a book and start reading it today, which book would it be?
Des Nouvelles d’Édouard (News from Édouard) by Michel Tremblay.
Photo credit: Justine Latour