Shadow Giller: Eric Dupont’s Songs for the Cold of Heart (2012; Trans. Peter McCambridge, 2018)

Shadow Giller review contents: In Short, a 300-word and spoiler-free summary, intended to have a broad appeal; In Detail, elaborating on one aspect of the book which I found remarkable (perhaps only interesting for others who have read the book or who have an interest more mechanical aspects of writing); Giller-bility (musings on the likelihood of a proper win); In Other Words, containing links to other Shadow Jury members’ thoughts.

In short

“Just picture a slightly tipsy librarian smoking weed as she tells you a cockamamie story of epic proportions.”

Eric Dupont’s 605-page-long novel opens with a young girl pouring her father a drink as a prelude to story-telling, the family gathered around, so readers cannot overlook the importance of storytelling. Stories are at the heart of this novel, the heart of life; stories make hearts beat and stories keep us alive. Even after we are dead.

“Canadians love stories. If they didn’t tell them, there wouldn’t be a Canada today.”

But the story which opens the novel is not told by a nation – it’s told by a Louis. A Louis who tells the story of another Louis. A Louis who came before. Our story-telling Louis is married to a Madeleine. And he tells the story of other Madeleines. And then the Madeleines find their voices.* (All via Peter McCambridge’s translation.)

In this first story, the tale-telling father emerges onto a stage, where there is an audience gathered around, with another man on the stage acting the part of a father and, soon, there is a ghost. A father, a son and a ghost in a church. A Mary, and another Mary and, soon, a swell of maidens and mothers and crones.

Which of course reminds us all of other stories which have been told. In paintings, like “The Death of the Virgin”, which was exhibited at Gemäldegalerie at Potsdamer Platz before it was moved to another museum, which resembled another painting which belonged to a Louis, a painting in which figures gathered around a corpse to whisper stories of what had come before. In operas, like “Tosca”, where a painter shapes a Mary based on a young local woman,  where rumours about illicit relationships abound, and trick-weapons draw real blood.

Songs for the Cold of Heart is a complicated yarn that you needn’t untangle: simply have someone pour you another gin. Ah, but if you do tug on a string, the rhythmic unravelling is so very satisfying.

*In detail

There are many Madeleines and many Louis, maybe one for every reader. Or maybe not. But certainly more than expected. More than you can see at first glance.

And when they are tipsy, some slip into hyperbole, but others fall into truth-telling. Under the influence, these characters might utter something ridiculous, or something profound.

“But every recess, every trip down the building’s hallways, every moment spent standing in line in the schoolyard brought with it the possibility that she might learn a little more about the Lamontagnes.”

Solange is desperate to learn more about the Lamontagnes. She gathers up details like a lover collects mementoes of one-night-stands and love-affairs. Even before she has walked into the scene, into the home of Louis Lamontagne, she has imagined it a million times: every detail works to assemble a deeper vision, to prepare her for the stage upon which the legendary family plays.

Eric Dupont builds his story on details as well. But not in the way that a baker builds a pie, with the emphasis on two parts: a crust and a filling. Rather, he is making a stew, stuffed with ingredients, bite-sized and plentiful, in a rich sauce, so that the elements are identifiable, but none decidedly the most important, all part of the dish.

One character’s voice might be “as though a Brussels sprout had started to talk”, another must “crush beneath her heel the mice that nibbled away at her flour reserves”, and yet another “carries a little atomic crater around inside. Her own private disaster area.” The language sauces it all up, so it’s only afterwards that you recognize the significance of elements which seemed like just another bit to swallow.

Lost earrings and lost arrows. Trick knives and silver spoons. Snowstorms and air raids. Flapjacks and upside-down pineapple cake. Gold crosses and amber barrettes. Fireworks and torpedoes, gunshots and fisticuffs. Sugars and fevers. Eggs on roses and roses behind ears. Tenors and letters. Mary Tyler Moore and Leonard Cohen. The Thorn Birds and The Origins of Totalitarianism. Outdoor operas and bottled schnapps. Chihuahuas and zebras. Skyscrapers and caskets. Stuffed animals and smuggled paintings. Nativity scenes and restaurant chains. Emissaries and mirrors.

It’s not just a complete meal, it’s an entire menu.

Giller-bility

Even if you’re gripping a glass of gin, you can count the number of French-language works which have made the Giller Prize shortlist; if you chomp down on the rim of your glass, you can even include the longlisted ones. (In 2006, there were two on the shortlist: in most years the entire list is English-language.) This year, the jury selected two French-language works, although Kim Thúy’s Vi (Trans. Sheila Fischman) did not advance to the shortlist. (Her Ru was shortlisted, also in translation by Sheila Fischman, in 2012.)

Long books don’t appear often either. Both Wayne Johnston’s The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and Stephen Price’s By Gaslight are just a few pages shorter than Eric Dupont’s novel, which seems to be tied with Rohinton Mistry’s 1995-winning A Fine Balance (but I suspect the wordcount for Dupont would set a new record).

So, the odds are against it. But Louis *is* a horse, so he runs his own track.

In other words

Links to reviews from the other Giller Prize 2018 shadow jury members: Alison, Kim and Naomi (links live when available).

This is one of the twelve books chosen for the longlist for the 2018 Giller Prize, which was announced on September 17, 2018 and selected by the 2018 jury which includes Kamal Al-Solaylee, Maxine Bailey, John Freeman, Philip Hensher and Heather O’Neill.

On October 1st, it and four other books were advanced to the shortlist and one of those will be chosen to win the prize on November 19th. This year I am reading with the shadow jury, with Alison and Kim and Naomi, who have committed to reading this shortlist in its entirety

2018-11-17T16:06:21+00:00

9 Comments

  1. annelogan17 November 27, 2018 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    S P O I L E R
    (A QUICK NOTE FROM BIP ABOUT ANNE’S COMMENT BELOW)

    I really enjoyed reading this review-it made me hungry!!! I haven’t read this one, and I didn’t expect it to win either, but I’m glad it got the well-deserved sales boost. When I saw his reading, everyone gasped in the audience when he finished because he read the part about the kid dying in the casket, which shocked everyone because he was so funny, and his reading started off so funny!

    • Buried In Print November 28, 2018 at 2:20 pm - Reply

      Oh, there are so many opportunities to gasp in this book but, yes, so many opportunities to laugh. Even though this is a really long book, I also surprised myself by going back to reread entire scenes, looking for the pivot, the place where I should have noticed that there was something coming, something shocking. There is no pivot: it just happens. Like life. (Mind you, I think I would have spotted a couple of things if I’d recognized some of the musical stories/allusions.) Do you plan to read it, or do you feel like you’ve gotten enough of a “taste” of it already?

      • annelogan17 November 29, 2018 at 9:32 pm - Reply

        Ha! Ok you’re right there, I should have prefaced what I wrote with a spoiler alert! My bad 🙂

        I would like to read it, but realistically, I probably won’t because it’s not on my shelf already. Sadly, I’m only really reading the books that publishers send me now, other than when my book club picks something, but I steer those choices based on what I’ve been sent (LOL) so my reading isn’t self-directed these days 🙁

        • Buried In Print December 4, 2018 at 10:02 am - Reply

          It’s probably not a big deal as I expect most people reading on the page are people who have already read the novel, but I am spoiler-phobic. 😀

          I’ve been there. And if it makes you happy, that’s a good thing. Once it got to a certain percentage, for me it became a question of needing to protect my own freedom to choose. Because I’ve never not reviewed a book that I’ve been sent, and that becomes a significant pressure once the numbers start to climb as you know! And I’d imagine, then, it’s even more true that a long/hefty read like this one simply is not going to make it into your stack when it’s already being so enthusiastically populated from other publishers.

  2. […] An excerpt from Marcie’s review: “Lost earrings and lost arrows. Trick knives and silver spoons. Snowstorms and air raids. Flapjacks and upside-down pineapple cake. Gold crosses and amber barrettes. Fireworks and torpedoes, gunshots and fisticuffs. Sugars and fevers. Eggs on roses and roses behind ears. Tenors and letters. Mary Tyler Moore and Leonard Cohen. The Thorn Birds and The Origins of Totalitarianism. Outdoor operas and bottled schnapps. Chihuahuas and zebras. Skyscrapers and caskets. Stuffed animals and smuggled paintings. Nativity scenes and restaurant chains. Emissaries and mirrors. […]

  3. lauratfrey November 18, 2018 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    This is such a good review!! I didn’t think it was possible to review this book without mentioning John Irving but you did it 🙂 I want this book to win so badly. I hope Heather O’Neill is pulling for it, it seems like her kind of book.

    • Buried In Print November 19, 2018 at 3:46 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Laura. I’m glad you enjoyed the book very much as well. I’ve only read one John Irving and I don’t see the parallel. Maybe I’ve just read the wrong one? In which case, I guess I lose Laura-points as it’s not so impressive anymore that I managed to write the review without referring to him, not under those circumstances.

  4. Naomi November 17, 2018 at 10:52 am - Reply

    This review makes me want to read it again right now! Despite the fact that it took me almost two weeks the first time.
    This is perfect: ” Rather, he is making a stew, stuffed with ingredients, bite-sized and plentiful, in a rich sauce, so that the elements are identifiable, but none decidedly the most important, all part of the dish.”

    • Buried In Print November 19, 2018 at 3:39 pm - Reply

      I took such a long time with this one and I knew to expect that, given you’re a one-book-at-a-time reader and I knew how long you’d taken with it. But at a certain point, I also wanted it to be my last of this year’s Giller reads, so, then, I started to spin it out a little, to finish the other one which remained (Tanya Tagaq’s). So I now really do feel a little lost with a stack two-inches shorter!

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