Sunday, August 14, 2016

Aurora Montrealis

Aurora Montrealis / Monique Proulx; translated from the French by Matt Cohen.
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, c1997.
240 p.

I've really enjoyed many of Proulx's works before; her Wildlives was a top read of 2012 for me. So I was eager to read this collection of very short stories, all showing a different facet of the great city of Montreal.

And I did enjoy it, overall, though there were some flaws that kept it from reaching the level of a favourite read. Proulx takes many different perspectives in this book -- from young people to older, all classes, male and female;  there's one story from the perspective of a middle-aged black man, followed by one narrated by a young Native character. Neither of these worked for me. They made me uncomfortable reading them somehow. I'm glad she was thinking of diversity in her presentation, but I just didn't feel convinced by the characters, and thought perhaps they didn't ring as true as some of the others.

There were also a couple of stories in which Quebec separatism was a strong theme. It shows the core beliefs and attitudes of the "yes" side, which is important, I think. But there was a noticeable lack of  characters from English Montreal as the teller of a story, despite the wide variety of angles for the stories. I'd have liked to see even one, as Anglos are also a vital Montreal community. But then I suppose English writers can take that on.

Anyhow, there were a lot of her regular themes woven into this collection, which I enjoyed seeing again, and her writing is always interesting. I also liked that many of the stories were very brief, allowing just a glimpse into a life, as if you are just passing by this person and will only ever get a peek into their thoughts. It allowed me to pick up and put down this book in between other reading and still feel like I was following along nicely. I think this is a clever way to approach a big city made up mainly of small neighbourhoods.

If you like short stories, give this one a try. I'd recommend her novels as a first experience of her writing, though; Wildlives (which I've mentioned) or The Heart Is an Involuntary Muscle, the two I've read so far, were both a little more engaging than this collection.

7 comments:

  1. I hadn't registered this volume of hers before. And how interesting that Matt Cohen translated it. I've read and loved The Heart is an Involuntary Muscle (so delightfully bookish) and I keep meaning to read more, but you know how it goes....

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    1. Yes, I was surprised to see him as translator. I've only read her later novels which I think are better, but I was still glad to have finally read this off my shelves.

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  2. I'll have to check this author out...just not her short stories (mostly because I'm not a huge fan of short stories). Hey, have you ever read Asylum by Jeannette de Beauvoir? It's set in Montreal, too, and I think I almost liked it more for the setting than for the mystery, with all the little history and details of Quebec and Montreal that was interspersed with the plot.

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  3. Yes, her novels were more engaging, I thought -- especially Wildlives with its Harry Potter connection :)

    I have read Asylum, which I thought was entertaining enough, but I was put off by the errors like calling the prime minister the premier of Canada...copyediting needed ;) I do like the way that John McFetridge's Montreal mysteries really contain those small details of Montreal history as well.

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    1. I'll have to read some of his mysteries. :) Thanks.

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  4. Are these stories more akin to flash fiction as opposed to full stories? Sometimes, when there are too many very short stories in a collection, I find it's terribly difficult to remember many of them! --grabthelapels.com

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    1. I wouldn't call these flash fiction -- but there are some awfully short ones that aren't all that memorable. No one pagers though.

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