For any book nerd, ending up at a book festival is pretty much heaven. At least when you get there. Then, it becomes purgatory as you wander in the endless aisles, asking yourself how many more books you can carry and for how long your credit card will hold. Last November, I had the joy and the painful task to fly to Montreal for their annual (French) book reunion, gathering publishing companies, writers, librarians and damned souls.

It was not my first time attending such an event. I had visited the one in Paris many times in my past without particularly liking it. The immense crowd and the ridiculous lines to have your book signed while talking for 30 seconds to your favorite writer were far from being as peaceful and cozy as my local bookstore. The feeling was way different in Montreal for many reasons.

The first is Montreal's traumatic winter cold. For a Parisian, it’s not an option to be outside during this season. The second one is more pragmatic. When I arrived in Montreal, I hadn’t been in a French bookstore for almost a year, and I was dying to waste all my savings – even if I had already spent them buying books online. Finally, going to Canada made me wonder what the literary scene was over there. The French are known for being self-centered when it comes to books. As a result, few artists from Québec are known on the other side of the Atlantic. To be fair, we also have a profusion of authors ourselves, so keeping up with other French-speaking countries is a process.


My first encounter with literature from Québec happened last year with a book by Nelly Arcan, Montreal-born writer, who ended her life at 36 in 2009. The novel called Putain was a shock and I decided to read the second one Folle with the participants in le Club des lecteurs at the French Library. It’s far from being joyful, but her writing skills and her analysis on the obsession with beauty in our society is breathtaking.

In Montreal, I wanted to go further, and I bought a dozen books from local writers. My first pick was Eric Chacour, born in Montreal, and of Egyptian origin. His first novel, Ce que je sais de toi, was awarded the Prix Femina des Lycéens in 2023. I have rarely seen such enthusiasm for a book. Ask anyone who read it, and you’ll see how much they were moved by this story taking the reader from Egypt in the 80’s to Montreal twenty years later (and briefly in Boston).

Le plongeur, by Stéphane Larue, is aimed for those interested in Montreal’s counterculture and the underground scene. The book tells the story of a metal, comics and sci-fi fan who suffers from a gambling addiction. It's brutal, gripping and full of Québécois slang (especially in the dialogue). Trying to put his life back together, he starts working in a kitchen, washing dishes. The pace of the writing is whirlwind, keeping you reading for hours to find out how it's going to end.


I could go on and on about my latest discoveries. For example, La Méduse by an artist called Boum, which tells the story of Odette, who gradually loses her sight. As she does, more and more jellyfishes appear on the pages. It’s so poetic and I dare you not to cry at the end. Or Peau de sang, by Audrée Wilhelmy, a romantic tale with a unique style.

Instead, I'd rather encourage you to explore it for yourself. In the coming weeks, I'll be adding these and many other titles to our collection. The French language is so rich, and it's amazing to discover or rediscover it through the many cultures that share it. Don't hesitate to join us at le Club des lecteurs (once a month online or onsite) to read writers from all over the world, or simply browse our catalog and tell us what your favorite French-language literature is.

Benoit Landon

Librarian

After studying journalism in France, Benoit began his career in Paris where he lived and worked for over a decade. In 2018, he crossed the Atlantic for a research project on a typewriter he bought at a flea market. He ended up in Hartford, Connecticut, where he met his wife by accident. Many administrative forms later, he settled in Greater Boston. As an avid reader, Benoit is delighted to be surrounded by books and to stay in touch with the French culture he loves. Come say hello at the circulation desk!

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