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 Quebec City in 1977, Charles Quimper is a former bookseller and has contributed to a number of magazines. In Every Wave, his first novel, was originally published in French as Marée montante (Alto) and is forthcoming in Guil Lefebvre’s translation from QC Fiction.
What is your relationship to Quebec writing?
For a long time, I consciously kept my distance, not knowing that it was just as rich, just as dynamic, and just as varied as any other literature, whether American, Spanish, or Czech. I think it’s wonderful how it uses its language, images and places that belong to it alone.
What, if anything, would you say defines Quebec literature?
An inwardness of character, I think, and a complexity in the emotions they experience. There’s a toughness, a harshness of tone that’s difficult to capture or define in just a few words.
What excites you most in the books you read?
It’s the first words, the opening lines that grab my attention. They have to land, leave their mark. I enjoy discovering images that are still new to me, scenes made up of words that leave me in a swirl of ideas.
What are some of the most important novels and books to come out of Quebec, in your view?
I think both Anne Hébert and Marie Uguay were ahead of their time. Michel Tremblay’s work blazed a trail, and I’m certain that no one was writing like Dany Laferrière or Hector de Saint-Denys-Garneau before they came on the scene. These authors all changed Quebec literaure through their audacity and singularity.
What are some of your favourite pieces of Quebec writing?
Very quickly, I’d say The Favourite Game by Leonard Cohen, Les Fous de Bassan by Anne Hébert, Putain by Nelly Arcan, all of which made a real impact in their respective genres and marked their era. They’ve since become uncategorizable classics. As far as I know, they’ve all been translated, carrying over their unique timelessness to another language.
What is your favourite book from Quebec that you have written or worked on?
I’m not a publisher or an especially talented translator, but I do know how to read and write. With that in mind, Prochain épisode by Hubert Aquin is right at the top of my list of personal favourites. It has it all: powerful writing, a modern and captivating story, an exactness and originality to the words that remains unequalled. It’s probably the Quebec novel I’ve read most often, the one that’s given me most food for thought and subconsciously guided my own writing.
And finally, 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?
It would definitely be Le jour des Corneilles by Jean-François Beauchemin. In it, Beauchemin flat out reinvents the language from top to bottom. He comes up with a beautiful, harrowing story and finishes us off with a heart-breaking finale. It’s a terrific book, a condensed version of all that Quebec literature has to offer.
Photo credit: Antoine Tanguay