Next Episode by Hubert Aquin (Ibis3's CanLit Challenge Book#11)

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From the back cover:
"First published in l965, Hubert Aquin’s Next Episode is a disturbing and yet deeply moving novel of dissent and distress. As he awaits trial, a young separatist writes an espionage story in the psychiatric ward of the Montreal prison where he has been detained. Sheila Fischman’s bold new translation captures the pulsating life of Aquin’s complex exploration of the political realities of contemporary Quebec."

This book was the Canada Reads selection in 2003.

I'm thinking that at least some of the material will be an interesting answer to the questions of assimilation raised in The History of Emily Montague.

Aquin himself was (like the protaganist of this novel) in a psychiatric ward awaiting trial for firearms posession when he wrote this book (this after having announced publically that he was joining a terrorist organisation). Will this book provide any insight into the mindset of the terrorist?

Aquin said that as a novelist he was greatly influenced by Joyce's Ulysses and by Nabokov. I'm looking forward to the complex structure of novel within novel within novel.

 

All the way through, I kept wishing that it was annotated, that I had a running commentary, that it included a map of Lausanne. I saw a French annotated copy at the bookstore when I picked this up, and I almost wish that I had taken it as well (though my French isn't so good to begin with). I really liked the layered feeling, the disorientation that the reader is submerged within. In my Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, it says that two of Aquin's literary influences were Joyce and Nabokov, and I really got that impression while I was reading this. I felt that I was only just that much removed from their company.
I was also reading Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red at the same time as this, and there were echoes I felt between the two of those works as well (even though there is almost certainly no real connection between the two). The narrative of "I Will Be Called a Murderer" and the narrator of Next Episode were at one point (for me at least), oddly at one with each other.
I'm going to read this again, most likely after it comes back from its planned bookring, and make further notes as I read it.

 

I must admit that I read Ibis3's comments prior to reading and I wonder if this coloured how I saw the book. But I have reflected on the narrative before making the journal entry or this thread entry.

I felt there were a number of questions about the narrative that I needed clarification of whilst reading although answers may not have been given.

A) Knowing the narrator to be in psychiatric ward it made me wonder if there was a case of dual personality with the main character. In the cahteau the coincidences between de Heutz and the narrator seem to be far too many, especially the covering story. Is thsi also the reason for the amount of space given to the piece of furniture with the two Roman warriors fighting to the death.

B) Did K set the narrator up? In which case was the narrator a novice and needed to be tested for loyalty and aptitude before being given other information in the cause? Was K a Double Agent? Was de Heutz an agent and could help the narrator? Was K the mysterious blonde who was tailing the narrator in the car?

C) How did Hamidou fit into the story (if at all)? His presence in the narrative seems brief and unlinked?

Well I believe that is it. I hope it helps to make this a lively thread. Below is my journal entry for this book.

============================================================================

This was an interesting read, and I can understand Ibis3 wanting to have an annotated copy and a map whilst reading this book. Aquin writes about the present situation with urgency and the past evening in Hotel Angleterre with tenderness, that I found made it easy to see the range of the narrators feelings.

There were times when I may have got a little confused and needed to step back and re-read a few pages.

 

It's been a while since I read this and it is kind of a blur (not surprisingly!), but I'll do my best to respond. :)

> I felt there were a number of questions
> about the narrative that I needed
> clarification of whilst reading although
> answers may not have been given. A)
> Knowing the narrator to be in psychiatric
> ward it made me wonder if there was a case
> of dual personality with the main
> character. In the chateau the coincidences
> between de Heutz and the narrator seem to
> be far too many, especially the covering
> story. Is this also the reason for the
> amount of space given to the piece of
> furniture with the two Roman warriors
> fighting to the death.

Well, The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature seems to agree with you: "His enemy, H. de Heutz--in his triple identity of banker, historian, and lonely aristocrat--emerges as the double or enemy-brother of the hero, the other half of the French-Canadian psyche associated with an English Canada both hated and loved. Their confrontation, in a magnificent scene in which the mythical motif of a castle suggests both an eternal embrace of opposites and the historical ambiguities of Canada's two nations, leads to statis."

Hmm. Okay.

>B) Did K set the
> narrator up? In which case was the
> narrator a novice and needed to be tested
> for loyalty and aptitude before being
> given other information in the cause?

I'm not sure he was a novice because he spoke of being with her (presumably involved in another mission?) the year before.

>Was
> K a Double Agent? Was de Heutz an agent
> and could help the narrator? Was K the
> mysterious blonde who was tailing the
> narrator in the car?

There was that suggestion wasn't there? I was rather suspicious of her.

C) How did Hamidou
> fit into the story (if at all)? His
> presence in the narrative seems brief and
> unlinked?

According to the CBC's Reader's Guide, Hamidou and de Heutz are the same person. I don't really recall.

>Well I believe that is it. I
> hope it helps to make this a lively
> thread. Below is my journal entry for this
> book.

Here's part of the summary from the Canada Reads panel discussion. I particularly like the bit about the therapy groups:
"No surprises from Mag Ruffman – she had voted against Episode on every ballot.
Nancy Lee also wanted it off the Canada Reads list. Will Ferguson and Denise Bombardier both signed their X’s next to The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, but in a move that confounded all, Justin Trudeau decided to vote off his own book!
He explained that he had come to the Canada Reads table with an open mind, and been convinced to choose a book that would be a revelation to readers outside Quebec. Mag who was consistent in her dislike of Aquin’s book, said that Next Episode therapy groups would have to be set up to deal with public confusion. Justin quoted Aquin: “Literature only truly exists once the reader has travelled back up the flow of words to become, in fact, a co-creator of the novel.”"

 

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