QC Fiction has released another translation (this time by Katia Grubisic) of a Quebec novel entitled Brothers by David Clerson. This novel (under its French title Frères) won the Grand prix littéraire Archambault 2014. The other two QC Fiction novels, Life in the Court of Matane and The Unknown Huntsman were exceptional in their content, very diverse and humorous in an off-beat way. Brothers is certainly no exception. Yet, providing a brief outline as to what the story is about is like describing colours to the blind or music to the deaf. Or rhyming “orange.”
Myth or Dreamworld?
The time and place is unknown. In fact, this could be all a dream, or an oral narrative, handed down from generation to generation and often that seems to work best in coping with the narrative.
So, in a nutshell: there are two brothers, both unnamed except for the appellations “older brother” and “younger brother.”The older brother has no left arm. His mother told him she chopped it off the day he was born so she could fashion it into a brother for him. This younger brother is ‘whole’ but his arms are too short for his body. (Sounds like phocomelia like that caused by thalidomide usage).
Are you with me so far? Good.
The two brothers live with their elderly, sight-impaired and senile mother who raises goats for food and keeps a small garden. They live close to the ocean, which is portrayed as a dwelling place of all types of creatures, loathsome leviathans and other nightmarish beasts. The ocean is always black, always washing up things animate and inanimate for the brothers to play with or sell in the village. Eventually, they repair an old boat and venture on an odyssey in search of their “dog of a father” who- yes- really is a dog. And a giant one at that.
Still with me?
Author David Clerson has cleverly constructed a story that could have been told hundreds of years ago by peoples living near the ocean. Similarly, there is no easy way to pigeon hole the time or place of the narrative, let alone the genre that Brothers could be filed under. There are moments of sheer horror, not of the demonic or spiritistic type, but that of vivid, untenable situations and eerie experiences. This is especially so when the older brother experiences life as a dog, eventually seeking vengeance on the family that abused him and the bitch he loved:
“He woke ready to paint the world the shade of nightmares.”
One cannot really sum up the entire story in a paragraph or two. Brothers is a book that has to be read, or rather, experienced. When I first started reading it, I was fairly reminded of the H.P. Lovecraft novel The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, for Brothers appeared dreamlike to me; Lovecraft’s novel was the only touchstone I had to interpret what I was reading and assessing the imagery appearing in my mind. Certainly, dreams figure prominently in the brother’s lives (it is in a dream we are introduced to the dog of a father), and often I wasn’t convinced that the story wasn’t simply a dream that the older brother was having. Or was it reality? Did the younger brother ever exist? Was their father really a dog? Clerson’s striking heroic story is there for the interpretation. Brothers would make for a very stimulating and lively book club discussion.
QC Fiction has found some legitimate French-language gems and made them available to a wider English audience of readers. Their first two books were very entertaining, amusing and intriguing, and Brothers is no different. It may not be as accessible as the previous two releases, but it is a fantastical story that you are unlikely to forget anytime soon.
David Clerson was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1978 and lives in Montreal. He was a finalist in Radio-Canada’s 2012 short story competition. Brothers is his first novel.
Brothers translator Katia Grubisic has been working as a writer, translator and editor for fifteen years, and has published poetry, fiction, translations, and criticism in Canada and internationally.