Kevin Lambert: ‘Querelle of Roberval’ and ‘You Will Love What You Have Killed’

Both Translated by Donald Winkler

I knew going into these books that they weren’t going to involve the usual things, but I also didn’t expect to be quite as shocked by them as I was.

Kevin Lambert’s work has won several awards in Quebec, and Querelle of Roberval has just recently become a finalist for the 2022 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. After reading his books, it’s no surprise that they’re being recognized – he writes beautiful prose. It’s amazing to me that the writing can be so lovely while the words can be so disturbing. I recommend both of these books to those of you who dare.

You Will Love What You Have Killed is the less shocking and upsetting of the two, but still involves a lot of death/murder/abuse, especially of young people. And the children are cruel. The children are victims of violent deaths and have come back to life in order to plot their revenge on the adults of their small town.

What we bear within us is too great and the world is too small. Destruction is our way to build.

The town they want to destroy is Chicoutimi, Quebec. I was surprised that he was singling out a real town with so much hatred. But in an interview with The McGill Tribune, Lambert explains that he felt a lot of hatred growing up in Chicoutimi where he wasn’t able to be himself.

I scan the skies for the best way to damn you, Chicoutimi, I want to know you utterly, to master every facet of this landscape I despise. I yearn to see you laid waste. I long to witness your death throes, to see your helpless eyes begging for mercy. But I know no mercy. I can no longer await your destruction, longing for a catastrophe that will end your days and wipe you from the map. No, it is I who will destroy you, Chicoutimi.

Querelle of Roberval takes things up a notch. The book starts off with a bang–or several, literally–with an explanation of Querelle and his “boys”. You may know from the first chapter whether or not you’d like to continue. I wondered about it, but continued on because I was curious. And then the writing got me, and the many characters at the saw mill pulled me in.

Querelle. The name is circulating, is making the rounds, is being passed back and forth under one’s breath in an aisle at Rossy, is being barked out audibly between two hot chickens at the Ski-Doo rest stop, no one’s ever seen the boy but the picture painted is that of a character out of one of those sadistic, frightening stories our cousins tell in summer under the tent.

Ordinary people–including Querelle, the new young guy with the body of a god–on strike for better conditions and higher pay. But the strike goes on and on, and gets more and more upsetting and aggressive, until one violent incident changes everything.

Chaos, in its logic, is exacting and perverse, demands constant attention, scrupulous work, disaster must be welcomed with open arms, no thought given to shielding the head while hurtling to the ground where your flesh will be flayed, where your skull will explode.

I was reading this book while camping with my daughters this summer, and they can attest to my gasps and exclamations. They kept asking me why I was still reading the book and I kept saying, Because, it’s good! How to explain that something shocking and horrifying can also be good? One scene in particular had me wondering if the world had gone bonkers – the author intentionally pushing the bar. This line I found in a review of the book at The Montreal Review of Books, describes it well: “… a prose that entices and disturbs at the same time.” 

Lambert is not writing for a wide audience – he’s writing what he wants to write, saying what he wants to say. He has made bold and risky subject choices and executes them with confidence. That appeals to me. I look forward to seeing what Lambert writes in the future (he is only 30), and urge any thick-skinned readers out there to give his books a try.

From an interview with the publisher, Biblioasis...

I was really surprised by Querelle’s reception, to be honest, because it’s a pornographic, violent book.

I don’t feel like I write books that you can just love. That would be too simple… I’m really interested in political questions in writing, but I always feel that the most political questions are the ones that the book doesn’t answer and that stay with the reader.

The goal of depicting such violence is not to give a solution or provide an example: it is to allow the reader to express and to feel feelings that they wouldn’t have allowed themselves to feel in any other way.

What I like about Don’s translation is that I feel like he translates this kind of music that is in my sentences, in my work, and in my language.

Photo by Pixabay on

So… Are you tempted?

23 thoughts on “Kevin Lambert: ‘Querelle of Roberval’ and ‘You Will Love What You Have Killed’

  1. Anne Smith-Nochasak says:

    It is tempting, after reading your analysis.
    It does not sound like an entertaining read, but literature should also challenge our preconceptions. In this case, however, I am going to pass. For now!

    • Naomi says:

      These books did challenge me, which I really liked. I’ve read enough books now that that’s not an easy thing anymore.
      Thanks for reading, Anne!

      • Anne Smith-Nochasak says:

        I have a feeling that I will eventually read both! One can become too comfortable.

  2. Karissa says:

    I actually have You Will Love What You Have Killed on my TBR and I know my local library has it. Your review has definitely renewed my interest though I wonder if it will turn out to be too much for me.

    • Naomi says:

      I hope so! I didn’t want to brush over the fact that they’re not easy to read and might not be for everyone. But, on the other hand, they’re bold and smart and thought-provoking.

  3. annelogan17 says:

    Hmm books like this always scare me a little. I find when I start reading something, and then realize it’s going to be disturbing, I always consider closing it, because I just don’t want to be a part of whatever it’s going to involve…but like you, I find it hard to put down as well. Sort of like I owe it to the writer? It’s weird…

    • Naomi says:

      I could tell right away, these books were going to be different, and because the writing was good, I was too curious to stop. And now, I’m really glad I read them!

  4. Marcie McCauley says:

    I do want to read these. I’m particularly intrigued by the comments about how he felt his translator engaged with his writing. It’s good to know what kind of mood I should be in when I pick these up!

    • Naomi says:

      I imagine translating this book would have been challenging. Because of the subject matter, it would have been really important to get it just right.

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