Note to readers: In lieu of the regular review that I would normally post, I am instead publishing a letter* I received from a reader regarding Songs for the Cold of Heart (2018, QC Fiction). I found it fairly sums up my thoughts on the book, and I reprint it here with the sender’s permission.
Dear Mr. Fisher,
May I call you James? I am one of the 12 subscribers to your blog (I do hope you get more soon, people don’t know what they are missing) and I wanted to not only thank you for alerting your few readers to the fact that the east coast of Canada has many fine writers, but la belle province has a number of them as well. I quite enjoyed your 2016 review of Eric Dupont’s Life in the Court of Matane and I agree that it was an excellent book. I was so happy that his French-language novel La Fiancée américaine is now in English as Songs for the Cold of Heart. I don’t know why they changed the title, James. Isn’t The American Fiancée catchy enough for English readers? Apparently not. Oh well, a rose by any other name and all that.
Let me tell you this book is excellent. Not only is it good reading but you get more “bang for your buck” since it is over 600 pages! It is only slightly smaller than the Montreal phone book after all the Anglais fled before the first referendum. Anyway, it is full of crazy characters, most of them belonging to the LaMontagne family of Rivière-du-Loup (which is only 2 hours away from Matane on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, in case you didn’t know, James). The head of the house is Louis “The Horse” Lamontagne and he is nicknamed that for his strength, among other attributes. He has teal-coloured eyes and is very handsome. He runs a funeral home out of his house where his mother, who originally died in 1933, refuses to die (“you only die twice”) and acts as a greeter and comforter to the bereaved.
A dead woman acting as a welcoming committee only stood to reason. Who better to reassure a grieving family than someone who had passed to the other side herself?
Isn’t that hilarious, James? The whole book is full of the type of humour that Mr. Dupont is famous for! Even the poor Catholic Church is not spared from his rapier wit. There’s a nun (Sister Mary of the Eucharist) that refuses to die as well and has a nose “longer than a day without bread” according to Gabriel LaMontagne.
Did I mention it was over 600 pages? It covers almost a century of time and travels all over the globe, from Rivière-du-Loup to Montreal, to Berlin, Rome and other places. Louis’ daughter Madeline and her friend Solange become famous for their restaurants and Madeliene’s twin boys Gabriel and Michel (who are told little of the LaMontagne family history) write the craziest letters back and forth. They take up a large part of the book. Gabriel takes after his Grandfather Louis. He is handsome and popular with high school girls (he is a gym teacher) and women. He is also a book thief, stealing a paperback off the shelf of every woman he sleeps with. He has quite a collection, apparently! Michel is an opera singer and is in Rome where he is in a film production of Tosca, an opera that is very prevalent in the book. In fact, the book is full of such things as bass clef birthmarks in private places, gold crosses, death, teal coloured eyes, Schubert and so on.
James, I so enjoyed reading this book, although it took me a few months. Sometimes I would forget who some of the characters were and miss some of the veiled references to some piece of past history. It’s a big book! I can’t imagine how many years it took Mr. McCambridge to translate it. I would say it was a huge accomplishment on the part of both men, wouldn’t you?
Anyway, James, I do hope you get to read Songs for the Cold of Heart soon. I would be interested in your thoughts on it!
I have to agree with the above reader. The good folks at QC Fiction supplied me with an Advance Reading Copy and I discovered Songs for the Cold of Heart to be an epic, rambling, decades-spanning, vastly entertaining book. It even had its educational moments, particularly about Germany during WWII and classical music. If you read only one fiction book this year, make it this one. Five stars at Goodreads. Great summer reading novel, too!
Longlisted, Giller Prize – Canada’s top literary award
Winner, Prix des libraires du Québec
Winner, Prix des collégiens
Eric Dupont’s La Fiancée américaine*, at last available in English (*over 60,000 copies sold in Quebec alone)
Songs for the Cold of Heart by Eric Dupont
*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2ppMEjH Thanks!
*(the letter is entirely fictional.)