I have to confess, it’s been a while now since I read these books. Particularly The Electric Baths. But that doesn’t make them any less good – it just makes my job a lot harder.
Both of these books are published by QC Fiction. I have had the pleasure of reading several books by this publisher now, and have found them to be unique and enjoyable. The Electric Baths and Tatouine are no exceptions. (You can find my other reviews here, here, and here.)
The Electric Baths by Jean-Michel Fortier, translated by Katherine Hastings
To start, I have collected together a few words and phrases other reviewers have used to describe The Electric Baths: “a dark, delightful landscape of curious happenings” (Foreword Reviews); “an uncanny series of events and emotions that are puzzling and in many cases hard to define” (Steven Buechler); “enchanting tale about a small unnamed village full of eccentric characters and secrets” (Publishers Weekly); “using subtle, sardonic humour to take great delight in fiddling with language and narrative techniques” (Jean-Sebastien Dore); “at once mysterious and preposterous” (Josee Boileau); and my personal favourite, “Somewhere between a testy fable and a high fever” (Dominique Tardif, Le Devoir).
If your reading tastes are anything like mine, you’d be all over this.
The Electric Baths is full of secrets; ones that the reader desperately wants answered. It’s also full of eccentric characters; ones that will delight you, trouble you, and make you ask questions.
The Electric Baths is full of strange goings-on; Louise has returned home despite the exciting stories she tells about her years spent away; Renée is avoiding her like the plague (“My heart has stopped.”); Celeste always takes the shortcut back home through the woods (“She was halfway home, deep in the woods, when a branch cracked nearby.“); Renée is given a book to read called The Science of Dreams that she thinks is “nonsense” (but, is it?); Bella has placed a personal ad in the paper for a wealthy man from elsewhere but is not always pleased with the results (“She watched him handle his knife and fork, she dissected his every movement and found fault with each and every one.”); young Lucy Webb has disappeared (“Bad things happen to young girls who are disrespectful.“); there is an old woman in a dark cloak by the river uttering spells and curses; and Sarah Rosenberg wants to hire someone to check on the electric baths in her basement every night.
Long, white, jagged flashes of lightning zigzagged in the sky. At Spencer Wood, Sarah Rosenberg couldn’t sleep, terrorized by the lightning and rain, a troubling combination that evoked in her mind all the bizarreness of the electric baths, of what was slumbering two storeys below, beneath her feet, and that would perhaps awake, would certainly awake, if the thunder rumbled any louder.
I’m looking forward to working my way backward to Fortier’s first book, The Unknown Huntsman.
Tatouine by Jean-Christophe Réhel, translated by Katherine Hastings & Peter McCambridge
Let’s play the same game with Tatouine: “EVERY line in this first novel deserves to be underlined. It’s a book to scribble hearts and stars all over…” (Claudia Larochelle); “I’m Yoda reading a book and crying in the bath” (Laurie Bedard); “I read the whole thing without putting it down once, as though I’d just heard from a friend I’d been worrying about.” (Veronique Cote); “I’m completely smitten with the narrator” (Neil Smith); and “every bit as remarkable as QC Fiction’s earlier offerings … wit and resignation dance cheek-to-cheek” (Marcie McCauley).
People are so good with words, aren’t they?
Like Veronique, I found this book hard to put down–I could have easily read it in one sitting (if I had had the time)–and not just because there are no chapter breaks to go and get yourself a snack. And, like Claudia, I wanted to underline the whole book. I have way too many quotes jotted down – I’m going to have to do some serious cutting.
There are so many fun things about this book: it’s written in first person and the narrator has a distinctive voice that grips you right away; I found the narrator very likeable despite his seemingly loser-ish ways; he’s a big Star Wars fan/nerd; and he has a wild imagination that has him going off on madcap tangents/daydreams. (And he likes to “choose random books at the library”.)
I found out that my favourite planet really does exist. There’s a town in Tunisia called Tatouine. It’s where they filmed the desert scenes in the first Star Wars trilogy. I also found out there’s an expression: to go to Tatouine. It means to lose yourself at the end of the world. There’s even a variation on it in Quebec: ‘tataouiner’, to lack speed, to dither. This planet really is my soul mate. It could be my totem. My star sign. I don’t want to be a Taurus any longer; I want to be a Tatouine…
It’s good he has a big imagination – he needs it. Like the author, the star of the book suffers from cystic fibrosis, which interferes with everything he tries to do. He has trouble keeping a job, an apartment, friends. Even his sister lives too far away… and she’s married now. His life is full of disappointments and he doesn’t seem to like himself very much. Reading the book, I kind of felt like I was helping to keep him company, listening to what he has to say.
Girls are like butterflies. They flutter, they dance when they walk, they appear like magic. They’ve barely come near me in months. I’m a very ugly flower, and the days are long.
The days drag by. They do it on purpose. They’re all the same. They drag on, don’t know what to do with themselves. Sometimes snow is what they do. Sometimes they stay as calm as you like. Maybe they’re taking pottery classes. I don’t know. I’m a lot like the days. I don’t get up to much. Sometimes I go to work at Super C. Sometimes I write poems and cry and think I’m pathetic. I’m more than capable of burrowing down into my bed and not coming up for days at a time.
The first time you cough up a good amount of infected secretions, it’s impressive. The first time I saw all that blood, I was sure I was going to die. Then you get used to it. You get used to the blood, get used to dying. I’m no longer impressed.
You’d think this book would be a downer, but there is so much light. Partly in his humour. But also in the touching relationship he has with his landlord and his playfulness with the little boy on the plane and his love for Amidala (and all other women that say hello to him).
She smiles at me again. I would have liked to own that smile and live there a long time and never pay rent again and never have to do any more lung treatments and grow old and die in her smile. Just one little smile is all I’d need.
Some good lines…
My heart is a lawn with a snowbank on top.
A poet who doesn’t want to write poems isn’t a poet, he’s a chair.
I realize that, even when I’m happy, I’m still sad.
My heart has been wearing pajamas ever since I turned twelve.
The city is one big open-air hospital. Everyone’s a little sick. Everyone’s dragging their own little invisible wheelchair.