Tatouine by Jean-Christophe Réhel, Translated by Katherine Hastings and Peter McCambridge

There comes a time in every adult’s life when they realize they are now on the other (wrong?) side of the generation gap. Today’s music, today’s news and sports figures hold little interest for us. Our cherished music is relabelled as “classic” and likely has been repackaged in 30, 40 and even 50th-anniversary editions. Same with books and movies of our generation (Late Boomer).

Consequently, I may not be the best person to review Tatouine*, as it was written for a generation in which Star Wars and Lord of the Rings (the movie, not the book) was standard entertainment fare. I say this because Tatouine is full of Star Wars and LOTR references. The unnamed narrator often sees himself as a Jedi knight and his dream is to live on the planet Tatouine:

“I think about Tatooine: a sand planet where everyone is poor. I’d like to have a Gaderffii stick with a poisoned blade. I’d like to wear a breathing apparatus and live in a tent made of Bantha hide. I should invent the ideal planet, just for me. I’d call it Tatouine, almost the same as a real one, but just different enough.”

When later in the story he learns that the Tatooine scenes were filmed in Tunisia, it becomes his ultimate goal to leave Repentigny QC and go there. Other than that goal, our narrator has little he aspires to. He is a published poet, he always misses book launches, and now his agent wants him to write a novel (it never gets beyond the sentence “The days are long” which, ironically is the way Tatouine begins). He also suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and due to that disease, there is a lot of mucus coughed up, which is one of the running jokes in Tatouine. The times and places (always inconvenient) that he needs to expectorate add amusement to a condition that is otherwise difficult to live with.

While our narrator is pretty much a loner, he has his sister Cammy who lives in New York City. A visit there over Christmas is simply hilarious as he is clearly out of his element as he, along with Cammy and her boyfriend attend a party in a huge mansion where he gets drunk on Crème de Menthe and cannot find a bathroom to puke in.

Amusing too, is the way in Tatouine is written: a type of stream-of-consciousness with lots of free association in the narrator’s mind. In the following excerpt, the narrator is working at a Super C (grocery store) and needs to collect the shopping carts during a snowstorm:

“The snow is sticky. The snow reminds me of my mucus. It sticks to my coat and my little fluorescent safety vest. I cough up yellow mucus every ten metres. They’ll never lose track of me, I tell myself. I’m Hansel and Gretel both at once. Walking through the snow in ski-doo boots is an art I’ve mastered, but it’s tiring. I can no longer feel my heart. My heart has been wearing pyjamas ever since I turned twelve. I come across a bunch of carts at the end of the parking lot. It takes me twenty minutes to fit four of them together. Nice work, genius! When I breathe in, I can feel every obstacle in my throat. I’ve never been good with obstacles. I’ve always backed away from obstacles, always run away from them. I decide to lie down in an empty parking space.”

Tatouine is full of such passages, and as there are no chapters in this 200+ page book, the entire book is an endless Twitter scroll of his comments, grievances, and observations of his life. Another interface tie-in is his habit of asking Google questions and seeing the hilarious results the ubiquitous search engine presents:

I open Google to see if you can keep frozen waffles in the fridge. I type, “Can you leave..” and all kinds of stuff appears. I laugh out loud as I stand there in the kitchen. Can you leave a dog in the car? Can you leave a splinter in? Can you leave a cruise ship early? Can you leave apple pie out overnight? Can you leave North Korea? Can you leave the country while on EI?

However, towards the end of the book, Tatouine becomes somewhat more sombre after the narrator’s extended hospital stay due to complications of his CF. To M. Réhel’s credit, he subtly shifts the book’s mood from the melancholy, mirthful story of a likeable 31-year-old with a poor self-image (“I’m an ugly flower”) to one where our narrator has a renewed purpose to leave his existence in Repentigny behind and get to Tunisia. Tellingly, we even get to know his name in a particularly poignant scene with Norm, his long-suffering landlord. Tatouine has come full circle for the reader.

Tatouine is the fifteenth QC Fiction release, and it is one of it’s most accessible titles. Even if (like me) you don’t get all the references to Star Wars and LOTR, it still makes for a very worthwhile read, and it gives a glimpse into the solitary and limited world of a CF sufferer.

*This review is based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by QC Fiction.

About the author: Jean-Christophe Réhel’s début novel Ce qu?on respire sur Tatouine won Quebec’s prestigious Prix littéraire des collégiens. It is his only novel to be translated into English so far; he is busy writing a second. Réhel is also the author of five poetry collections. He lives in Montreal.

  • Publisher : QC Fiction (Sept. 15 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771862289
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771862288

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James M. Fisher is the Founding Editor of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. He works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane, their tabby cat Eddie, and Buster the Red Merle Border Collie.