The debut novel from Hazel Jane Plante is not easily categorizable. Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) is an unapologetically original amalgamation of many disparate elements: a rough draft of an encyclopedia cataloguing a fictional television show; a profile of a recently deceased friend; a working-through of grief and unreciprocated desire; and a tale of a woman’s gender transition. Cramming so much into a short novel is a major feat, but Plante manages to weave together a narrative that feels sincere and delightfully quirky. This is possibly owing to the fact that the author is a librarian – a profession that prides itself on fostering cohesiveness out of mountains of information.
Structurally, the novel takes the form of an encyclopedia documenting the eccentric cult classic Little Blue, the favourite television show of the narrator’s recently deceased friend, Vivian. Little Blue is presented as a kaleidoscopic piece of media containing dozens of characters and narratives, similar in scope to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The landscape of the show provides a prism to work through complicated feelings of mourning, grief, regret, and love that the narrator has for Vivian. Entries on characters and places are interwoven with soliloquies and stories about Vivian and the narrator.
In both form and content, Little Blue Encyclopedia deals with absence, which is appropriate to the theme of grief. The book doesn’t supply details of its characters’ lives and situations but rather refracts them at one remove. The reader needs to meet the book halfway, to put an effort into imagining what lies behind and beneath the surface. In this way, the book operates as a shared creation between reader and text; the experience of reading is immersive and interactive. Plante seems interested in how media acts in relation to its recipient: the novel, like the narrator’s document, is constantly mediated, providing nothing directly but insisting on viewing people and situations second-hand.
Grief is a process that encompasses the death of the past and of future possibility. Despite this, Little Blue Encyclopedia is an undeniably optimistic text, one that takes up mournful subject matter and suggests ways it can be worked through. The endlessly complex landscape of the novel mirrors the convolutions of grieving. Plante doesn’t want to erase pain and trauma but to claim one’s own narrative of it, chronicled in a manner that is safe.