Sunday, April 12, 2015

Revisiting Ravenscrag

The other week I attended the launch of Alain Farah's Ravenscrag at Drawn & Quarterly (although the term "launch" seems to be used rather loosely by the store, as the book has been available since January).

The conversation with author Alain Farah (left) and his translator, Lazer Lederhendler (right), was moderated by Catherine Leclerc. Interestingly, it's Lederhendler who held the floor for most of the evening, probably because 1. his command of English is superior to that of the other parties, and 2. as translator, he's had to read and interpret the text particularly closely. He could've carried the evening on his own with his insight into the problems of translation.

Lededhendler notes that the novel may seem crazy — or better, "madcap" — but it's not insane. It holds to an internal logic.

The novel in French is titled Pourquoi Bologne, which I would think makes the thing as a whole something other than Montreal-centric, whereas the English takes for its title the name of a city landmark, grounding it very firmly. I can't help but think the title, and the impression it creates, affects the reception of the novel. Is it a different novel in English than it is in French? In fact, Farah occasionally refers to the translation as "Lazer's novel."

What I hadn't considered is how much the schizoid experience of the book is meant to reflect a francophone's experience in English Montreal — I can't tell if I didn't recognize this because I'm still so much an outsider to this city that I can't see some of its essential paradoxes, or that I'm so much of here already that the issues appear commonplace and don't strike me the way they would if I were reading about some foreign place.

The underground geography of the McTavish reservoir, its pipes and tubes, Farah says was inspired by Terry Gilliam.

This novel is not a linear narrative because that's not Farah's experience of the world.

[I had several issues with the event: it started late (about 30 minutes or so, though I'd stopped checking the time); the way chairs were set up severely restricted movement, particularly access to the author (for a subsequent event I attended, someone had the sense to stack chairs to clear floorspace once the formal portion of the event was through); in fact, the author appeared to be at a cocktail party rather than a book-signing (I had every intention of buying a copy of the book for a friend, but I didn't, because it was difficult to interrupt his small talk and more awkward to ask that he bestow the favour of his signature (at the subsequent event, the author sat at a table and there was a clear lineup for signings). Keeping it casual can be cool, but I'd bet it's detrimental to book sales.]

Things I would've liked to ask the author (but didn't, because the question period was cut short because it was weirdly silent and I'd already asked a question, and because I failed to schmooze my way into conversation with him):
  • What exactly is retro scifi? Is it a thing your marketing department came up with, just because you mention Philip K. Dick?
  • What is the relationship between insanity and time travel? You seem to be deeply influenced by Philip K. Dick; to what extent is the relationship between insanity and time travel in your novel inspired by or modeled after Dick's depictions?
  • Although he has a cult following, Dick has never really been accepted by the literary establishment (to the extent even that none of the reviews of your novel I've read appear to recognize his influence): Does that hold true among French readers? (To what extent is genre an English problem?) How do you feel about the genre-ification of literature, that Dick should be ghetto-ized? How would you feel if your book were shelved in SF?

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