Que­bec daz­zler turns his­tory into fic­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE -

SWIRLING through time from the Sec­ond World War to the present, and around the world from the Mid­dle East to Mon­treal, this daz­zling and in­trigu­ing novel ques­tions the of­fi­cial ac­count of Canada’s ter­ri­fy­ing Oc­to­ber Cri­sis.

It fo­cuses on the quest of free­lance writer Sam Ni­hilo to un­cover the truth, or at least some truths, be­hind the shock­ing acts of Que­bec ter­ror­ists four decades ago.

But Oc­to­ber 1970, longlisted for this year’s Giller Prize, is com­pletely up to date. It con­tains ripped-from-the-head­lines in­sights into the cor­rupt deal­ings of Que­bec politi­cians, busi­ness lead­ers and mob­sters.

The novel, first pub­lished in French in 2010 as La Con­stel­la­tion du Lynx, slides non­cha­lantly be­tween the nat­u­ral and su­per­nat­u­ral worlds.

A paint­ing even comes to life, spout­ing ad­vice on a char­ac­ter’s sex life.

Oc­to­ber 1970 blends mul­ti­ple pas­sages of first-per­son nar­ra­tion by a ta­pes­try of char­ac­ters with the au­thor’s third-per­son voice.

Literary novel? Genre fic­tion? Who knows? Who cares? It’s a great ride. Au­thor Louis Hamelin won the Gov­er­nor-Gener- al’s Award for French fic­tion for La Rage in 1989.

On­tario writer Wayne Grady’s id­iomatic English trans­la­tion in­cor­po­rates many puns and other jokes, the mark of an ex­pert in both lan­guages. Grady has just pub­lished the novel Eman­ci­pa­tion Day. Any­way, what reader could dis­like a novel whose au­thor slyly in­ter­rupts the story, af­ter al­most 600 pages, to note at a sus­pense­ful point: “They’re in the of­fice. We won’t de­scribe it here or we’ll never see the end of this book.”?

The novel springs from shock­ing eventse four decades ago, poorly re­mem­bered by many Cana­di­ans, which cre­ated many ru­mours and con­spir­acy the­o­ries, par­tic­u­larly in the prov­ince that’s un­like the oth­ers.

Bum­bling ter­ror­ists from the Front de libéra­tionli du Que­bec, claim­ing to seek thet prov­ince’s in­de­pen­dence from Canada,a kid­napped James Cross, the Bri­tish trade com­mis­sioner in Mon­treal.

A sec­ond FLQ cell kid­napped Que­bec labour min­is­ter Pierre La­porte.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment of Pierre Trudeau re­sponded to the kid­nap­pers’ de­mands of free pas­sage abroad and lib­erty for jailed com­rades by in­vok­ing the War Mea­sures Act, which essen­tially im­posed mar­tial law in Que­bec.

La­porte was mur­dered, Cross was freed and the gov­ern­ment al­lowed some FLQ mem­bers to flee to Cuba.

Hardly any of the 450 peo­ple ar­rested with­out war­rants were charged with of­fences.

Many of the novel’s 40 char­ac­ters are based on real 1970s peo­ple, some of who ap­pear un­der their own names: Trudeau, René Lévesque, Charles de Gaulle.

Some of them bear the same ini­tials as real peo­ple — for ex­am­ple, Paul Lavoie rep­re­sent­ing Pierre La­porte.

Hamelin pro­vides a help­ful list, iden­ti­fy­ing some char­ac­ters rather whim­si­cally, such as “Colonel Robert Lapierre, po­lit­i­cal ad­viser, grey em­i­nence, etc.”

The au­thor’s list­ing of “Dick Kim­ball, Quiet Amer­i­can” is not the only literary ref­er­ence.

Ni­hilo meets a source in a restau­rant “straight out of Michel Trem­blay,” whose pa­trons are hip­sters and Dol­larama shop­pers.

Drink­ing scotch with a Mafioso in an empty casino, another char­ac­ter “tried to think which Molière play he be­longed in.”

This novel car­ries on the tra­di­tions of con­spir­acy-the­ory fic­tion such as James Ell­roy’s The Cold Six Thou­sand, about the as­sas­si­na­tion of John F. Kennedy.

But Oc­to­ber 1970 is a lot fun­nier and eas­ier to read.

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