Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

A creative memoir on the presumed life of an absent mother.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 265 pages.
Read from February 28, 2019 to March 1, 2019.

Anaïs never knew her mother’s mother, Susanne, nor did her mother, really. After her grandmother’s passing Anaïs hired a private detective to get the details on why her grandmother was such a fleeting presence in her family’s life. Short-listed for Canada Reads 2019, this is a creative memoir taken from the facts gathered by the private detective in an attempt to piece together the life a woman who abandoned her two young children and caused a void in her family that is felt for generations. The book will be defended by Yanic Truesdale during the Canada Reads 2019 debates at the end of March.

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Yanic Truesdale will be defending Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette during the debates taking place on March 25-29, 2019.

Susanne was originally written in French under the title, La femme qui fuit (The Woman Who Ran Away) and has been beautifully translated into English by Rhonda Mullins. Bravo to Rhonda who has managed to capture the poetic prose of this story in translation.

Susanne is successfully written in the second person and reads like an elegant poem of yearning as Anaïs envisions her grandmother throughout the different stages of her life. The book is far from accusatory and it reads like a real memoir in many aspects. The yearning is for forgiveness, understanding, and for the answer to the one question that neither the author or her mother get an answer to, why did Susanne leave?

Susanne led a tumultuous and intriguing life that included the great depression, political and art revolutions, alcoholism, homelessness, asylums and more. Even with the details unearthed from Susanne’s life, the author can still only speculate as to what drove her to her decisions and imagine how she might have felt in different parts of her life. Why did Susanne decide to abandon her two children, one of whom is Anaïs’ mother, after giving them such tender care for a few years? And then show up at Anaïs’ birth and a few small moments in her mother’s life? Guilt? Remorse? Forced responsibility? As Anaïs speculates, Susanne may have lived with guilt but ultimately may not have been able to face the choices she made, to which, Anaïs forgives her.

What’s the most moving about this book is the wonderful poetic prose which makes for a highly readable book that is easy to connect with. Anaïs is an immensely talented writer whose writing it literary and stimulating while also being highly accessible. I truly enjoyed this novel and felt entwined with Susanne’s gripping story, even if it is only through the speculative hope of her granddaughter.

This engrossing story is going to give the other contender’s in the Canada Reads 2019 debate a run for their money and I am looking forward to hearing how it is received.

The Secrets of Evil by Robert Bolaño

“This story is very simple, although it could have been very complicated. Also, it’s incomplete, because stories like this don’t have an ending.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 144 pages.
Read August 31, 2018.

Should books be published posthumously? Books like Go Set A Watchman changed the way fans looked at some of their favourite characters and its publication created a lot of controversy about whether or not it should have been. With this particular book, many Bolaño fans seemed thrilled for another chance to read the last remains of a brilliant writer. I for one, am also glad. Robert Bolaño died in 2013, at the age of fifty, of liver disease. This book is a compilation of stories that were discovered on his computer after he died.  Despite having not read anything by Bolaño beforehand, this book was given as a very thoughtful gift and reminder that even the most talented of writers have a process and that not everything that they write is going to be palatable right away. Knowing these small details about this short story complication allowed me to really appreciate its contents, albeit even unfinished.

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Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño. Source: The Globe and Mail

One of my favourite stories in this compilation is “Colonia Lindavista”. This dream-like narrative involves a young teen writer who often listens to his neighbours having sex. late at night. The narrator is curious about their acts but is more intrigued by the silence that follows. The narrator, like many of us, wonders about the private lives of other people.  Many of the stories are brief and offer a glimpse into the private realm of a character but don’t mistake this brevity for lack of depth, Bolaño’s writing style is more than equipped to deliver a full immersion into a character or story.

I read this novel in one sitting, and I would recommend the same for any readers looking to approach it as if you read the stories individually you may not be able to fully appreciate the stories as some are more ‘finished’ than others. The biggest take away I got from this novel is a reflection on my own writing and enforcing my ‘never-give-up’ attitude. It has also instilled a desire to read more by Bolaño to get a better taste for his work as I sense a genius lurking in between the pages of this short compilation.

 

Interesting Facts about Ernest Hemingway

Love him or hate him, you cannot deny the influence this man has had on literature and beyond.

Originally published on October 29, 2015.


On this day, 57 years ago, Ernest Hemingway passed away.  He was born on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois and he tragically committed suicide on July 2, 1961. Love him or hate him, you cannot deny the influence this man has had on literature and beyond.  Here are some interesting facts that about Hemingway that you may not have known.

      1. When his favourite bar moved locations, Hemingway took a urinal from the bar to his Key West home because he claimed he had already ‘pissed away’ so much money into the urinal that he practically owned it. He converted it into a garden foundation that still stands today.
      2. Related, Hemingway loved cats. That garden fountain he created from the urinal served as a drinking spot for the ground’s cats. He had a six-toed cat named Snowball and it’s rumoured that the remaining six-toed cats on the grounds today are descendants from Snowball.

“Cat’s were put into the world to disprove the dogma that all things were created to serve man. “ – Ernest Hemingwayhemingwaycat

        1. He’s the Chuck Norris of authors. He survived two plane crashes (on consecutive days) a ruptured kidney, skin cancer, hepatitis, anthrax, malaria, diabetes, a ruptured spleen, a crushed vertebra, a fractured skull and a ruptured liver in his lifetime. The only thing that could kill Hemingway was himself, which he did with his favourite shotgun that he purchased at Abercrombie and Fitch.
        2. He served in WWI as an ambulance driver. His novel, Farewell to Arms, is a semi-autobiographical account of his time there. He actually wanted to fight as a soldier but was denied due to his bad eye-sight.
        3. For my Canadian readers, in 1919, after returning from WWI, he accepted a job in Toronto and wrote for the Toronto Star.
        4. During his 62 years of life, he was married 4 times and divorced 3 times.
        5. He once examined F. Scott Fitzgerald’s penis after a discussion he had with Zelda Fitzgerald in which she claimed that size of a man’s penis couldn’t make any woman happy. Hemingway reportedly said that Fitzgerald was of ‘normal’ size.
        6. He was a KGB spy. He grew paranoid in his last few years of life and believed that FBI was spying on him. He took the cover name of “Argo”. He didn’t end up being all that helpful to the KGB, but the FBI was indeed watching him, Edgard Hoover personally placed him under surveillance.

Random fact: There is an Ernest Hemingway look-a-like society: http://www.hemingwaylookalikes.com/


Sources:

http://www.biography.com/people/ernest-hemingway-9334498

https://huckberry.com/journal/posts/ernest-hemingway-in-key-west

http://www.biography.com/people/ernest-hemingway-9334498#personal-struggles-and-suicide

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hemingway

http://www.messynessychic.com/2013/06/18/10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-ernest-hemingway-like-he-was-a-kgb-spy/

http://www.kickassfacts.com/20-kickass-interesting-facts-ernest-hemingway/