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.
Daniel Grenier was born in Brossard, Quebec, in 1980. His debut short story collection, Malgré tout on rit à Saint-Henri was published in 2012, and his first novel, L’année la plus longue (The Longest Year), won the Prix littéraire des collégiens and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for French Fiction, the Prix des libraires, and the Prix littéraire France-Québec. It has since been translated into English for House of Anansi by Pablo Strauss.
What is your relationship to Quebec writing?
My relationship to Quebec writing is multi-faceted, frequently changing, and complex. It’s anything you can imagine. I started off reading the classics, which I was forced to discover at school. Then I tried to rediscover them myself, diving into neglected or forgotten masterpieces. Later I tried to be part of it all, writing novels and sending them off to well-known publishers. Today it feels as though I’m watching from both the inside and the outside, helping with the emancipation of Quebec writing while continuing to relish its independence. I’m a novelist when the mood takes me, a translator to earn a living, and a reader to live my life.
What, if anything, would you say defines Quebec literature?
Its unpredictability and elusiveness. Every time we try to define it or pin it down, it slips away. We talk about a focus on Montreal and wind up in Abitibi or on the Lower North Shore; we say it’s masculine and women writers are thriving more than anyone; we say it’s boring and cerebral and it’s bursting with imagination and action; we label it francophone and inward-looking and it’s coming down with every language and accent you can think of.
What excites you most in the books you read?
The way the sentences are tied to the plot, the way the words and the story are inseparable, the way the narrative voice and the reader’s voice come together. I like it when a book makes me want to read it quietly and then again out loud.
What are some of the most important novels and books to come out of Quebec, in your view?
Bonheur d’occasion [The Tin Flute] by Gabrielle Roy. Because it’s a Quebec novel written by a woman that’s not quite that at all.
Comment faire l’amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer [How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired] by Dany Laferrière. Because it’s a novel that helped a lot of people realize just how vital the experience of the outsider and the new arrival was to understanding the dynamics of a city like Montreal.
Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler. Because it delivers on the promise of an eccentric, larger-than-life historical fresco that managed to take the place of reality in many people’s heads.
What are some of your favourite pieces of Quebec writing?
The novels and short stories of my good friend William S. Messier need to be translated right away! He’s also a great writer of American reality in all its splendour and diversity. The literature of a new generation of First Nations writers also needs translating right this minute, writers like Naomi Fontaine (whose first book, Kuessipan, was translated by David Homel), Louis-Karl Picard Sioui, Marie-Andrée Gill, Julie Kurtness, and Natasha Kanapé Fontaine.
What is the favourite book you’ve written or translated?
My very first translation occupies a special place in my heart. It’s a collection of short stories, Sweet Affliction, by the Montreal/Winnipeg writer Anna Leventhal, that became Douce détresse. It was not only a pleasure to translate, but in my eyes it’s something of a manifesto for a Quebec-flavoured translation right down to every detail.
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?
I’d recommend another novel I translated: New Tab by Guillaume Morissette, a francophone from the Saguenay who has chosen to write in English without exiling himself in Toronto or New York. I’d have them read the original English version and then the translation (Nouvel onglet), where every word is in French but everything happens in English, so that this person could see how Quebec literature is seldom to be found where we expect it.
Photo credit: Justine Latour, © Le Quartanier