Quill and Quire


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by Élise Turcotte; Rhonda Mullins (trans.)

Rhonda Mullins’ translation of Montreal writer Élise Turcotte’s 2011 novel instantly transports readers into a cramped world that nearly shimmers with fear.

Ana is clinging to a tenuous bond with her touch-averse young son, Philippe, after the death of her husband, Rudi, leaves them both traumatized. Their one locus of calm involves the haircuts Philippe receives from Kimi, a Guyanese immigrant who seems bound for better things than employment at a dingy neighbourhood salon.

Ana’s world is shattered when Kimi is found hanging in the salon, a death quickly dismissed as suicide. Ana’s concern and sadness turn into obsession: she doggedly pursues the truth about Kimi’s death, the stylist’s shady fiancé, the gang members who haunt the streets outside the salon, and the horrors of the country Kimi fled, including the evil still emanating from the notorious 1978 Jonestown Massacre.

In learning about Kimi’s past, Ana tries to regain a modicum of the control that has been stolen from her. While Philippe begins tentatively to move on from his father’s death, Ana remains stuck, compulsively focused on the passing of someone she barely knew. But as the truth of Kimi’s death and Ana’s past unfolds, the connection between the two women becomes clearer.

Guyana is an intense novel, dealing with big and difficult themes: love, death, loss, evil, and the strange, often confusing process of grief. It is spare and claustrophobic – a thoughtful, sometimes painful book that should not be ignored.