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October 1970

by Louis Hamelin; Wayne Grady, trans.

There are legions of people who believe that Elvis is still alive, JFK was shot by the Russians, and the CIA orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Closer to home, conspiracy theorists believe the 1970 October Crisis was masterminded not by the Front de Liberation du Québec, but by the federal government. That theory has been fuelled over the years by Quebec writers and filmmakers intent on portraying the FLQ as naive, misguided idealists rather than terrorists who unscrupulously murdered Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. Surely, they say, the government was ultimately responsible. Louis Hamelin’s novel embraces that view.

Hamelin is one of Quebec’s most venerated authors and a literary journalist at Le Devoir. His novel La Rage won the Governor General’s Literary Award for French-language fiction in 1989. October 1970 was originally published in 2010 as La constellation du Lynx and enthusiastically received in Quebec. Translated by Wayne Grady, the English version was longlisted for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

The names, but not the actions, of most of the major players in the October Crisis have been changed, making for a confusing start to the book for anyone familiar with the historical events. But as the pace accelerates, the confusion dissipates, and the reader is thrust into a fascinating political thriller based partly on the author’s research and partly on invention. This is breathless, plot-driven storytelling, although most of the huge cast of characters remains amorphous, like figures in a dream.

Hamelin’s tale also makes a credible, albeit unsubstantiated, case for pinning ultimate responsibility for Laporte’s death on government authorities. October 1970 is an important addition to the October Crisis canon. It may not be any more true than a living, breathing Elvis, but will make for lively debate nonetheless.