5 French Canadian authors to discover
When we talk about French literature, we don’t just mean works written by French authors living in France. In March, we celebrate le Mois de la Francophonie, a moment to celebrate the diversity of the French language, spoken in 29 countries worldwide. What better way to celebrate this diversity of language and perspective than through literature, providingas it so often does an insight into other lives and cultures? In March we also celebrate International Women’s Day, another vital event in the calendar which promotes the work of women across the globe, uplifting their voices in a world that often seeks to silence them. This March, we have chosen to highlight the work of five female authors living and writing in Quebec, the French speaking region of Canada. From eco-feminist thrillers to poetic insights into life on the Innu First Nations reservations, and novels deconstructing 1980s Japanese society, these authors represent the richness and multiplicity of contemporary Quebecois literature.
Anne Hébert (1916-2000) was a writer, poet, playwright and screenwriter. Born in Sainte-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier, she lived in France for 32 years before moving back to Montreal in 1998. Kamouraska was adapted for the big screen in 1973. 1982, she won the prix Femina for her fifth novel, Les fous de Bassan.
In 1839 Elisabeth d’Aulnières waits by her second husband’s deathbed as he breathes his last. But her focus drifts back twenty years, to her first marriage to a violent alcoholic, and to her lover, an American doctor, who promises to save her from her fate. Together they will concoct a plan to be free of Elisabeth’s husband forever. Somewhere in the icy plains of Kamouraska, Antoine de Tassy will meet his violent end. This traumatic and turbulent time comes back to Elisabeth in feverish fragments, with narration shifting between first and third person as she is haunted by a parade of ghosts and hallucinations from her past, and her resentment and grief for the love she lost to exile and tragedy, rises to the surface. A claustrophobic and tense novel which examines the conditions of a woman trapped in her role as wife and mother, first in an abusive marriage, and then a second loveless one as she strives to regain her respectability amidst scandal.
Aki Shimazaki (born in 1954) is a Japanese Canadian author. Born in Gifu, Japan; she emigrated to Canada in 1981, before to moving to Quebec in 1991. She began writing and publishing her novels in French in 1999- her works take the form of pentalogies, cycles of five novels built around the same story, as experienced by five different characters and which can be read independently.
Takashi Aoki, businessman working for the Goshima company, is dedicated to his employers and to the office life-working late, socialising with colleagues after work, to the detriment of his own personal life. But when he begins to meet Yuko, receptionist at his office, after their French classes, he begins to hope for more. On the brink of being sent abroad, what will become of his burgeoning relationship with Yuko, particularly when the son of a major investor in Goshima makes his interest in Yuko known? Will Yuko and Takashi be able to weather the storm of societal pressures, that dictate that the good of the company must come before their personal happiness? This short novel by Aki Shimazaki provides a reflection on the rigidity of Japanese society in the 1980s, and the societal pressures that can sometimes overwhelm us.
Kuessipan: à toi (2015)
Naomi Fontaine (born in 1987) is an Innu novelist and poet from the community of Uashat, near Sept-Iles in Quebec. Kuessipan, her first novel, was adapted for the cinema in 2019.
A meditative and poetic reflection on life on the Innu First Nations reservation in Uashat, Quebec. Semi-autobiographical, the novel is made up of 66 short texts, each a luminous snapshot of daily life, told with unflinching frankness and love. From written portraits of village elders to new mothers, these narratives of love, loss and resilience seek to deconstruct stereotypes associated with the Innu community by recentering their experiences and culture within literary narratives. A vital work by one of the most compelling voices in contemporary Quebecois literature.
Les villes de papier (2018)
Dominique Fortier (born in 1972) is a novelist, editor and translator living in Outremont, Quebec. Her first novel, Du bon usage des étoiles (2008), was nominated for a Governor General's Award and the Prix des Libraires du Québec. In 2020, she received the Prix Renaudot Essai for Les villes de papier.
In this book, Dominique Fortier imagines the life of Emily Dickinson, one of the most important and enigmatic American writers of the nineteenth century. Who was she? More than a century after her death, Emily Dickinson’s life remains a mystery. Born in Massachusetts, she never married, nor did she have children, and lived reclusively in her family’s home. She wrote hundreds of poems there, which she always refused to publish. From the places where Emily Dickinson lived- Amherst, Boston, Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Homestead- Dominique Fortier explores the quiet existence of “the lady in white” through the books she loved, her garden, her ghosts. By venturing into the inner world of the poet, Dominique Fortier draws a vibrant portrait of Emily Dickinson and her circle, coupled with a brilliant reflection on the power of writing.
Gabrielle Filteau-Chiba (born 1987) is an author and translator. Inspired by Anne Hébert’s novel named after and set in the region, in 2013 she left Montreal for the wilds of Kamouraska. She continues to live and write from there; her novels inspired by her experience of living in isolation in the forest.
Raphaëlle, forest ranger in Kamouraska, lives in seclusion with her dog Coyote. When the latter goes missing, Raphaëlle immediately suspects the poachers that are rife in the region, and that she, amidst her understaffed team of three across the entire territory, are trying to control. As she tracks the poacher, she begins to realise that she in turn is being watched, hunted, by someone- the prey and the predator intermingle as she fights to save her skin, and those of the animals she protects. A powerful and atmospheric ecofeminist thriller, Sauvagines calls into question man’s attitude towards the natural world, and the lengths we are prepared to go to in order to protect what we love.
📚 Want more? Find our full selection of French Canadian authors here.