The publishing world is starting to take notice of Quebec’s fledgling QC Fiction: two Governor General finalists (Songs for the Cold of Heart and Explosions) and a Giller Prize finalist (Songs for the Cold of Heart) in just the past year is commendable and shows that they are definitely on the right path when selecting titles to translate and publish for the English-speaking world. Still, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to QC Fiction’s next title. Their most recent release, In the End They Told Them All to Get Lost, is one that left me scratching my head as to trying to understand it. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it; I just couldn’t wrap my head around it enough to give it a fair review (I may yet.). Prague (due for release in June 2019*) is slightly more accessible but has its “curiouser” moments too, and in this regard is more along the lines of the recent novella In Every Wave.
“I’d always dreamed of Prague without really knowing why.”
An unnamed narrator, a woman who has been published as a poet and is presently writing her first novel, tells us her story in little swatches of prose. She is married to Guillaume with whom she has an open relationship (there are rules, however: no falling in love and no sleeping over). Working as a manager at a bookstore, she begins a relationship with Sebastien, an employee, against her better wishes, but the pull of the flesh is more powerful than her reasoning abilities. She loves her husband but finds she is falling more and more for Sebastien. They talk of running off to Prague over drinks after work.
We started talking about Prague as a joke. We were in a bar, already pretty drunk. I was reading Verite et amour by Claire Legendre. He loved Kundera [a Czech writer]. I’d always dreamed of Prague without really knowing why. That’s how the idea came up.
This was at the beginning of their liaison. She also begins to write her novel, which, at one point she tells Sebastien it’s going to be called “Goodnight, Sebastien. Halfway through, it’s going to become surrealist autofiction. I’ll turn into a mermaid and live in the Brussels Canal.”
In about one hundred pages, the reader has been swept along into a maelstrom of situations and emotions that brings the would-be author’s writing to a standstill, her marriage on the rocks and her relationship with Sebastien at its lowest ebb.
I’d lost all motivation for the novel. I was coming to the end of it feeling weak and small. I was a coward. I’d broken my contract. I wouldn’t see the story through to the end. I was realizing I that I’d tried to use other people for my fiction. I was realizing that no one but me wanted to be a character in this story. No one but me found it fulfilling. No one but me needed it to give life meaning.
I’d tumbled from fiction into reality.
Prague is a story that makes you feel for all of it’s three main characters, despite their shortcomings. While the narrator claims she is not a victim, she has willfully chosen to put herself into these entanglements of the heart which have hurt her. She even contemplates suicide. Has she done it all just for the story? To solely create some autofiction? How does a writer get back to the words after all this? “Without the book, I am an empty shell,” she tells us. While Prague should come with an R rating for its explicitness, there is a heartbreaking story that rapidly unfolds, one that keeps the reader’s eyes set intently on each fragile word. You might read Prague through quickly the first time, but do go back and savour it at a slower pace and you’ll be well rewarded.
*Note: this review is based on an Advance Reading Copy provided by QC Fiction in exchange for a fair review. Prague will be released June 2019 but can be pre-ordered from Amazon.ca using the link below.
Prague by Maude Veilleux, translated by Aleshia Jensen and Aimee Wall
*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/2tMr0bs Thanks!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maude Veilleux was born in 1987. She has published a number of fanzines and two poetry collections. Prague is her second novel; her first, also published in French with Hamac, was longlisted for the Prix des libraires du Québec, the Quebec booksellers’ award. She lives and works in Montreal.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS
Aleshia Jensen is a Montreal-based translator and former bookseller. Explosions, her first translation of a novel, was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Award for Translation.
Aimee Wall is a writer and translator. She has previously translated novels by Vickie Gendreau and Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard. Originally from Newfoundland, she now lives in Montreal.