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To See Out the Night by David Clerson

"Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men." — H. P. Lovecraft

That quote by the master of “weird fiction” nicely summarizes the contents of QC Fiction’s latest release, To See Out the Night by David Clerson, which was translated by Katia Grubisic. The twelve short stories by Mr. Clerson live in the dream world, as do many of his characters. If you read his previous QC Fiction release, Brothers, then you’ll know what I mean (“He woke ready to paint the world the shade of nightmares.”). For as in a dream (or nightmare) where anything can happen to familiar places, persons and situations, the same can be said of the writings of Mr. Clerson. Perhaps Mr. Clerson has found the secret to capturing dreams he has had. I know I wish I could do the same. I am always amazed at the detail in my dreams, not so much the people and events, but the fantastical, yet familiar settings that occur almost nightly, some more vivid than others.

The common denominator in these stories is death, decomposition, life arising out of death (think mushrooms) and even a tumour that lives on after being cut out from a man’s body. H.P. Lovecraft, who loved to dream, would have enjoyed these stories, I’m sure.

While I certainly liked all of the stories here, one of my favourite ones is “City Within” in which the narrator, after finishing his night shift, wanders the unreal world of Montreal’s underground city. It is composed of numerous subbasements, parallel corridors, trapdoors, and staircases that are few and unreliable to use to access other floors.

Staircases are pretty rare. I know there are some that span several floors, though it's impossible to actually access any of them, until a door might open five or six landings down. Obviously exploring floors that appear at first to be com pletely cloistered becomes a fixation. 
Over the course of several visits, I finally found a way to get to every floor except the third, which is still impenetrable: I couldn't find a door or a trapdoor to get in. When I climb up a staircase that crosses the third floor, and I bang against the wall, I can hear an echo behind it, though whether it's accessible or whether there is only an enclosed, unreachable space, I don't know. 
The fourth subbasement has particularly low ceilings. You have to get around on your hands and knees, sometimes even crawling. The rooms there, on the other hand, are vast, wide expanses through which I inch along, dragging myself across the floor with my elbows or on my stomach. In the sixth subbasement, the ceilings are surprisingly high-you'd have to be three times my height to touch them...

Upon exiting this underground maze, the narrator finds it is almost daylight, thus he has spent most of the night exploring. He then goes home, only to dream he is back in the underground world, but there is someone else there, a mysterious woman named Camille. He then goes to work tired from lack of sleep and arrives at the only solution: live and sleep down there permanently. This reminds us of those dreams we don’t wish to awake from, or if we do, we desire to get back to sleep to continue the adventure if possible (which it usually isn’t).

If you are looking for something a little different in a short story format, look no further than David Clerson’s To See Out the Night. Who knows, perhaps your dreams will be influenced by one of these weird dream stories.


About the Author

David Clerson was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1978 and lives in Montreal. His first novel, Brothers, also translated by Katia Grubisic for QC Fiction, was a finalist for the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Translation and a National Post Book of the Year.

Katia Grubisic is a writer, editor, and translator. She has been a finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and her collection of poems What if red ran out won the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book. She has published translations of works by Marie-Claire Blais, Martine Delvaux, and Stéphane Martelly. Her translation of David Clerson’s first novel, Brothers, was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for translation.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ QC Fiction; 1st edition (Sept. 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 150 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771862688
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771862684

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

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

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or the Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we 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/3hQ2uhX Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2020-2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Brothers by David Clerson

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.”

Brothers is a fantastical story that you are unlikely to forget anytime soon.

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?

Fantasy/Horror/Mtyhology?

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.

Conclusion

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.

This article has been Digiproved © 2016-2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved