Half my frippery party wardrobe lay in a heap by the bed. The other half I was wearing. Mainly black, floor length. A relatively good hair day. But at the last minute I heard the front door open and just knew I would not be going to the Quebec Writers’ Federation gala after all, even though I had friends and a free ticket waiting at the Corona.
Sorry. Well, maybe.
Reading Ian McGillis’ lively account of the event in my morning-after Gazette, I had a twinge of regret. Was it really a better idea to curl up with my husband to re-watch a DVD of 9 mois ferme, a brilliant French comedy written by, directed by and starring Albert Dupontel, one of the few great comic auteurs, about a straight-laced magistrate who gets stinking drunk at a New Year’s party and ends up pregnant by… ?
But I digress.
Why pass on the pleasure of a starry celebration with artistic types one has known forever, a heck of a good party in a splendid location, where the subject of the night is one of my favourites? Could it be because I’ve got a book out this season? But Holy Fools + 2 Stories wasn’t even in this year’s competition. Sour grapes can’t be blamed.
Nevertheless, having a book published definitely means one’s sympathies are firmly planted with the authors of all books. It is humanly impossible to applaud ecstatically at the sight of one book being held up as better than all the others, even as the crazy marathon of writing a novel is turned into a gladiator sport.
Writing is not at all like hockey. There are no teams, no net, no puck to be passed back and forth, no final shot between some hulk’s legs propelling oneself, and one’s sweaty mates, into stardom.
Writing is a solitary activity. I know, I know, it takes a village to get a manuscript between covers and into the hands of a reader. But hold on a minute. What happened that we all agreed to hand the life and death struggle of art over to what is virtually a classy lottery system? How can one book be better than all books for all people? Especially the damn novel, which has nothing at all to recommend itself other than the profoundly personal smell of one person’s soul whiffed by and acting on others only through the labour of reading.
So, I missed the event because I am not a monarchist. I can’t bring myself to believe in king or queen for a day. I do not believe writers should submit their fragile egos to a feudal-era blood sport, regardless of whether the wine has been lifted above the usual level of headache-inducing salad material usually served at these events. An event, which in the case of QWF, is an endearing clone of bigger such events held in bigger cities, hosted by famous TV personalities, if they have managed to stay out of jail.
For the record, a hell of a lot of good books by Montreal writers are out there this season, and you won’t hear about them from the prize circuit.
I was riveted by Serifim and Claire by Mark Lavorato, published by House of Anansi, reviewed and featured in Rover. Set in Lisbon and Montreal, this uncompromising immigrant tale left me floored by a profoundly honest ending. I was momentarily thrown off, until a few days later, I found myself still thinking about his characters, and realized how thoroughly my expectations have been perverted by the bouncy Hollywood dictate that all endings must be upbeat.
The best place to learn about books you might want to read and could well enjoy is from your friends. Especially if your friends include smart people who read books, then think and talk about them at length. One can only hope your friends include Rover.
Marianne Ackerman is publisher and founder of Rover.