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City of Forgetting

by Robert Majzels

“Je me souviens” proclaims the provincial licence plate, but the Montreal of Robert Majzels’ new novel seems haunted: half-remembered myths, dreams, and histories surface and collide in its melting springtime steets. And even as Majzel’s mad, bad, and otherwise nonconformist characters struggle to eat, the urban economic engine goes on relentlessly without them.

Majzel, a Montreal-born writer and translator, experiments with narrative form and philosophical speculation in his second novel, as he did in his well-received first effort, Hellman’s Scrapbook. City of Forgetting summons iconic outsiders, antiheroes, and rebels from history and literature, recasting them as homeless Montrealers. Unrecognized and uncherished, they live in makeshift camps on the muddy slopes of Mount Royal and along the waterfront, where they relive their pasts, and evade capture by unseen enemies. They wait, half in dread, for the future that their comrade Clytaemnestra defines as “where hope collides with death.”

Meaning exists on a resolutely metaphorical (and metaphysical) level in the book, anchored only by Majzels’ vividly descriptive writing and the humour and pathos he culls from a fantasy wherein a figure like Che Guevara temps as a claims adjuster to help fund the revolution. Throughout, Majzels’ focus is on the ideologies and defining acts of his characters: from criminal women who defy authority – Clytaemnestra, Lady Macbeth, and a street punk named Suzy – to conquering men who each want their belief system to shape the world – including Che, architect Le Corbusier, and the founding fathers of New France. Resonances with Quebec’s current war of beliefs are unavoidable, but Majzels leaves such conclusions to the reader.

City of Forgetting makes for difficult reading. In the absence of plot or fully realized characters, the reader hopes for a connective tissue of narrative tension or energy. But the first half of the book has the disconnected theatricality of expository monologues spoken into a void. Likewise, the book is mired in allusions to other literary and historical sources. While the author helpfully adds endnotes, the overall effect of 113 quotes in a slim 159 pages is overpowering. One wishes that Majzels had scaled down the scholarly references and relied more upon his own imagination, which proves in many sections to be witty, humane, and admirably supple.


Reviewer: Lisa Godfrey

Publisher: The Mercury Press


Price: $16.95

Page Count: 168 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55128-045-0

Released: Nov.

Issue Date: 1998-1

Categories: Fiction: Novels