For my English class, I was asked to write an essay to compare my view of Montreal with the view of Montreal depicted in the books were a studying this semester. The reading list for this course includes Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill, Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall, Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler, Standing Wave by Robert Allen, The Rocking Chair by A.M. Klein and Stranger Music by Leonard Cohen. I picked Barney’s Version so last weekend I did a walking tour of the Mile End area in Montreal that is featured prominently in Mordecai Richler’s books.
Here are a few of the photos I took with my trustworthy point and shoot camera:
What Canadian classics are seminal to our national identity according to this select group of Canadian writers and thinkers? What books do these writers treasure? What books influenced them the most? Four Canadian writers talk about their personal libraries. With Charles Foran, Alexander MacLeod, Kathleen Winter, Kate Pullinger.
Two Montreal writers, Mordecai Richler & John Glassco, and their wildly different backgrounds, careers, and legacies. With Charles Foran, Charles Taylor Prize-winning author of Mordecai and Brian Busby, author of A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer.
I picked up Lullabies for Little Criminals because it’s on the reading list of a class on Montreal authors that I’m hoping to take at Concordia University. In the story, Baby is a bright, intelligent twelve-year-old who is motherless and lives with her heroin-addicted father in a rough area in downtown Montreal. She’s surrounded by poverty, violence, drugs, prostitution but with her childlike wonder she’s still able to see beauty in her squalid surroundings.
I was struck by the sordidness of the story’s setting. I’ve lived in Montreal close to two years now so I’m familiar with the area where the story takes place but it was hard to picture a child growing up in those surroundings. A very naïve attitude on my part because I know that children are often forced to live in horrible conditions. The “lucky” ones like Baby manage to salvage part of their childhood and keep a measure of hope for their future despite the obstacles in their way.
The reversal of the parent-child roles is also very present in the story. In many instances, it’s Baby who seems to have the role of caretaker in the relationship with her father Jules. Jules is impulsive, immature and selfish. He cares for Baby but he’s unable to offer the stability she needs. Later in the story when Jules’s abuse and inattention pushes Baby into the arms of the pimp Alphonse, I felt her complete vulnerability and helplessness at her inability to control her circumstances.
Lullabies for Little Criminals is wonderful but heartbreaking. I felt the book got harder and harder to read but the effort was definitely worth it. It’s a harsh story but it’s not without beauty and hope.
I’m excited the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival is taking place in Montreal between April 27th and May 1st. I’ve pored over the programme trying to select the sessions I want to attend. It’s frustrating, so much to do and so little time! Anyway, if you wish to find out more about the upcoming festival, you can visit: http://www.bluemetropolis.org.
Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist just like her character Temperance Brennan who is featured in her books and the TV series Bones.
I was a fan of the show before reading the books. I kept meaning to buy the books but at the time I was living in Venezuela and they weren’t all available. I wanted to start the series from the beginning and read the books in order!
Last December I finally started the series and I’ve read all of them except for the latest book Spider Bones which is still only available in hardcover. I love the stories and I got a kick out of the fact that many of them are based in Montreal the city I now call home.
I was really excited to find out that she would be making an appearance at a downtown bookstore but I didn’t know anything about the new book she would be promoting. I thought it was another book in her regular series but then I read online that it’s a Young Adult novel and that the heroine is the niece of her main character Temperance Brennan.
Thursday, November 18th finally arrived and I left work in a rush and walked over to the bookstore. I bought the new book and settled in to wait. Despite the fact that the book is for a YA audience most people waiting were adults and some of them elderly.
Ms. Reichs finally arrived and she spoke about 15 minutes about her new series (you can find more information here) and the she took questions from the audience. A few questions were about the TV show Bones and she explained her role as a producer. She explained why Montreal isn’t featured in the show and that TV Tempe is in a way book Tempe but at an earlier point in her career. I asked her if her main character would be making an appearance in the new series and she explained that yes she would be because young Tory Brennan would be going to her famous Aunt Tempe for help with the science as her pack of Virals solve mysteries. By the way, the book says for ages 12 and up but she joked that she’s going to have it changed to 90 and down since it’s mostly adults buying the books for themselves!
After the Q & A, Ms. Reichs signed books and posed for pictures. I found her to be an incredibly smart, funny lady. She’s really down to earth and she speaks in a no-nonsense kind of way. She is the first author I’ve met and I’m really happy with my experience.
Virals in now on my “To Read” book pile and of course I will post a review once I’ve finished reading it.
Barney sits down to write his memoirs when, in an autobiography, a fellow Montrealer who is now a famous writer accuses him of being an abusive husband, a drunk and maybe a murderer. His story moves back and forth between the past and present. You realize from the beginning that Barney with his faltering memory is not the most reliable of story-tellers especially since his memoirs include footnotes by his eldest son who corrects or clarifies some of his writing. Barney is not a likeable fellow but deep down he’s not a bad guy and in spite of the sarcasm, humour, and the pranks he describes you feel his regret and remorse. Despite the increasingly frequent memory lapses and the constant digressions, Barney’s life story spills out. He finally tells his version of the disappearance of his friend Boogie that led to him being charged with murder.
As a backdrop to the story, Barney is writing his memoirs in a divided city struggling to find its identity. As a new Montreal resident, I loved the author’s descriptions of the climate of the city during the period of time leading up to the 1995 Referendum in Quebec.
Towards the end the story, Barney is mixing up events, getting confused often and you begin to suspect the reason. Barney’s story ends abruptly and is followed by an afterword by his son Michael that finally answers the question of his Dad’s innocence (which you find yourself doubting while reading his story). The saying says that hindsight is 20-20 but I’m not sure that’s correct in this case as Barney struggles to come to terms with the different events in his life. As for Mr. Richler’s writing, it was phenomenal. This story is witty, snarky, funny but poignant. I found myself rooting for Barney but also pitying him at times. If there is a lesson to be learned from this story it should be that we shouldn’t judge others and we shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about fitting in or achieving the correct status is society.