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.
Pierre-Luc Landry is an editor and publisher at La Mèche as well as an exciting young author. His first book is L’équation du temps. We reviewed his second book, Les corps extraterrestres, here. It is forthcoming from QC Fiction in an exciting collaborative translation by Arielle Aaronson and Madeleine Stratford.
What is your relationship to Quebec writing?
If I had to qualify my relationship with literature in only one word, I would probably choose the adjective “capital.” Literature structures the whole of my life. Almost everything that I do is tightly related to literature. I am a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada in the Département d’études françaises; I am also an editor and publisher at La Mèche, the creative laboratory of Les éditions de la courte échelle; I am a writer, of course—or at least I try hard to be one. So far I have published two novels, a small number of short stories, academic papers, columns, etc. But first and foremost, I am a reader.
I was born in Quebec, and I spent 25 years of my life there, in villages, small towns, and big cities. I’ve lived in Ontario for the past 7 years but I don’t think I ever stopped being “from” Quebec. I have a hard time with absolute identities; they frighten me in so many ways… But I think it is possible to accumulate identities and subvert them and play with them and own them, in a way, as to build a polymorphous sense of self and collectivity.
Thus I am very attached to art hailing from Quebec, produced by people born and raised there, by people who chose to live there, by people who landed there for many different reasons, wanting it or not—they all participate with their creativity in moulding what it means to be Québécois.
What, if anything, would you say defines Quebec literature?
Quebec literature is far from being a monolithic aggregate that can be described in a couple of words. In fact, I think there are multiple Quebec literatures. Aesthetics change through time, of course, because society changes, people change, thus literature mutates and gets reshaped constantly. Also, several circles of influence can (and do) coexist in a same time frame, making it hard to describe and define literature. I could write pages and pages about the different aesthetics that sculpted Quebec literature, but I will not turn all magisterial on you and I will settle for a simple aphoristic answer:
Nothing can define Quebec literature but every single written work published within it.
What excites you most in the books you read?
I would say it is the adventure. Not exactly in an escapist way, though. The intellectual and artistic adventure that books promise you. I want to be thrown off balance, I want to be shocked, I want to be moved, I want to learn, to learn that I am deeply ignorant, I want to be amazed by the genius of a writer or of a form or a structure, I want to find out that everything is far more complex and complicated than I thought it was. I want to laugh and cry too, of course, because I am as cliché as everyone else. I want to feel. To feel whatever there is to feel regarding a particular situation. Books can provide everything; they comprise the whole of humanity.
What are some of the most important novels and books to come out of Quebec, in your view?
This question is killing me! There are so many important pieces in Quebec literature that I cannot possibly name just a few. From the mystical writings of Marie de l’Incarnation to Hubert Aquin’s revolutionary novels, from Nicole Brossard’s postmodern writing to Catherine Mavrikakis’s shrewdly challenging fiction, from Michel Tremblay’s deep and genuine theatre to Gaston Miron’s amorous poetry, Quebec literature abounds with invaluable books. It would psychically destroy me to choose even ten of them and to ignore the others. I wish I had time to talk to you about Louky Bersianik, Mathieu Leroux, Réjean Ducharme, Michèle Lalonde, André Langevin, Gabrielle Roy, Dany Laferrière, Leonard Cohen, Josée Yvon, Nelly Arcan, Élise Turcotte, Charlotte Gingras, Régine Robin, Éric Plamondon, Heather O’Neill, and the numerous writers I am sadly forgetting right now because my memory is flawed and I am way too excited thinking about the million books that have shaped Quebec literature.
What are some of your favourite pieces of Quebec writing?
I think the sane response to this insane question would be to categorically refuse to answer it! I have so many favourite books that it is literally impossible to select just a few of them for the purpose of this interview. Besides, my favourite novel when it comes to the exploration of the existential doldrums of the urban bourgeois lifestyle would be totally different from my favourite poetry collection regarding everyday minuscule delights. And so forth. I absolutely cannot reduce the infinite amount of life-changing books I have read to a Top 10 or anything similar because it would be deeply unfair to even the power of a single short sentence or verse.
What is your favourite book from Quebec that you have written or worked on?
My favourite book is probably the one I have not started writing yet. I think of a book not as the end of a process but only as a step towards something unattainable, something that would probably be Literature with a capital letter, or Art, or something similar in the conceptual realm. And I do hope that I am changing with every book that I write, that I am getting closer to whatever it is I am chasing. I probably will never be satisfied with anything. It is a curse as well as a blessing, I imagine: it keeps me wanting for more, trying again and again, and aiming towards the unknown with extraordinary effort.
I share this conceptualization with the part of myself that works as a publisher and editor. It absolutely does not mean that I am not proud of the books we published at La Mèche and that I do not admire the writers that chose to work with us; what I am saying is that we are trying to build something together, something coherent and powerful and of high value, and that each and every single book we will publish participates in the construction of an ensemble greater than the sum of its parts.
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 will be a smart-ass and recommend that they read Michel Biron, François Dumont, and Elisabeth Nardout-Lafarge’s Histoire de la littérature québécoise. It is a very palatable introduction to Quebec literature and it covers almost all of it, from the first explorers to today. That way, the neophyte will be presented with key moments of Quebec’s literary history and will, if anything, discover that it is extremely rich and complex. If that reader is anything like me, s/he will visit her/his independent bookstore and buy hundreds of books that s/he will want to read as soon as possible!
Photo credit: Benoit Laflamme