Culture & Conversation

Imagining Montreal

Asked to name the iconic taste of anglo Montreal, most people tend to fall back on high-carb cliché’s like smoked meat and bagels. But look further, into the city as served up by 21th century fiction and you’ll find quite another range of images.

Anglo Montreal is mean streets, back alleys and stoner Plateau rats, an altogether wild party town whose inhabitants are nonetheless proud to be here and sometimes—at least after midnight or when the weather breaks—deliriously happy.

A city where the past and present collide, its inhabitants struggle to negotiate ways around and through a motherload of history, both ancient and fresh. Inevitably, we face the weather, fierce winters alternating with sweltering summers, hardly any in-between. Our common challenges are both unifying and divisive: the ice storm, the referendum. Love, sex, food, ghosts, the dance of two languages meeting in public places.

So many images floating through my mind, the result of dipping into some 24 novels and short story collections set in Montreal, and published since 2000. Montreal is busy re-inventing itself in fiction.

You don’t have to take my word for it. On Sunday, November 28, Rover will team up with Infinitheatre to offer a reading featuring excerpts from these 24 books, just the bits that seem to nail our town. A mixture of generations and genres, sensibilities and styles, the common ground being setting: Montreal.

The following list (our programme) does not include everything written about Montreal since 2000, but I’m prepared to argue it is representative. If you’ve written or heard of other novels/collections with a Montreal location, please let me know. I’m interested in creating a bibliography and plan to write something of length on the theme.

Meanwhile, don’t miss what promises to be highly economical and I hope memorable verbal slide show of our fair city, circa 21st Century.

Writers and their works:

Lance Blomgren, Walkups

Gina Roitman, Tell Me a Story, Tell Me the Truth

Heather O’Neill, Lullabies for Little Criminals

Ann Charney, Distantly Related to Freud

Ami Sands Brodoff, The White Space Between

Nairn Holtz, The Skin Beneath

Gail Scott, The Obituary

Edward O. Phillips, Voyage on Sunday

Matthew Fox, Cities of Weather

David Homel, Midway

Claire Holden Rothman, The Heart Specialist

Doug Harris, You Comma Idiot

Mary Soderstrom, The Truth Is

Rawi Hage, Cockroach

Elise Moser, Because I Have Loved and Hidden It

J.R. Carpenter, Words the Dog Knows

Linda Leith, The Desert Lake

Marianne Ackerman, Matters of Hart

Neil Smith, Bang Crunch

Louis Rastelli, A Fine Ending

Peter Dubé, At the Bottom of the Sky

Glen Rotchin, The Rent Collector

John Brooke, The Last Days of Montreal

Claude Lalumière, This is the Ice Age

At the Bain St. Michel, 5300 St-Dominique St.

Sunday, November 28, from 5 to 7 pm.

ADMISSION: pay-what-you-can.

  • 4 Responses to “Imagining Montreal”

    1. Ann Diamond

      What a fabulous idea, Marianne. I wish I’d thought of it first! Of course to get a real understanding of the inherited turf that has inspired so many writers, we really need to go back farther, to the 40s, 50s, 60s, when some of the great Montreal novels were written and published.


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