Review

Nord Alice

by Marc Séguin

Leméac, 2015

This third novel by Marc Séguin, a well-known painter and an avid hunter and fisherman, has just been longlisted for the Prix des libraires du Québec for 2016. Séguin earned critical acclaim as a novelist with his first novel, La foi du braconnier (2009), and again with his second, Hollywood (2012), which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction in 2013. Both novels were translated into English by Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo and published by Exile Editions. Séguin’s first feature film, Stealing Alice, will be released later this year.

In Nord Alice, the narrator is obsessed with Alice, a doctor like himself and the lover whose anguish and anxiety he can never manage to calm. Their relationship fails and he leaves her in Queens, only to find himself in Kuujjuaq among the Inuit in a world that once belonged to Alice. He is overqualified to be an emergency room doctor, but he accepts the role and finds that he can treat the natives’ bodies although not what truly ails them.

Between patients and when he has had enough of thinking only of Alice, he either consumes women on the Internet—hundreds of them—or he goes fishing. There, thigh-deep in the waters of a rushing river or lying on his stomach on a melting ice floe, he appeases his hunger by eating raw fish and trying to understand why he left Alice. He thinks back on earlier generations of his family to try to further understand himself, interrupting his own story with a tale inspired by the men who came before him, particularly his great-grandfather Roméo during the Klondike Gold Rush, the first of his predecessors to have killed a man.

He comes to believe that the fault lies with his male ancestry, who experienced death first hand, killing animals for food and digging graves for their own children who died prematurely: gold prospectors, soldiers, and doctors whom necessity drove to kill. What traces were left by those who lived in the years before ours? What do we leave behind us when we run away?

The Far North as described by Marc Séguin is not all vast white expanse and boreal splendours; it is also the North of uranium mining and excessive alcohol consumption. Séguin is motivated by a profound respect for the land and those who have walked it for centuries, but he also bears witness to a fiasco still in the making. As he draws parallels between past and present, he realizes that “we love each other in order to survive.”

PETINF14-QuebecReads-Favicon-32x32Review by Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo
PETINF14-QuebecReads-Favicon-32x32Read an excerpt here