ALU Summer Book Club: Life in the Court of Matane Discussion
July 14, 2021
we introduced you to our July book club pick, Eric Dupont'sLife in the Court of Matane (Baraka Books/QC Fiction) and shared a short interview with translator Peter McCambirgde for a behind-the-scenes look at how the book came together. This week, we hopped on Zoom and got bookclubby about the novel: we agreed we all loved it. Read on for (spoiler-filled) highlights from our staff chat and a reading guide for your own book club discussion!
BARB - “I felt a real kinship with the novel because I remember some of the history throughout the book.”
LAURA – “I’m a sucker for a political book and I loved the way this coming of age story was a prism for all these societal and political currents and history and literature. It was done in a way that you don’t realize you’re absorbing it all until it all lands that’s all woven together.”
TAN – “There are little reveals in Songs for the Cold of Heart that are blown wide open later in the story in the same way as in Matane. Dupont brings that device to work really well in his novels.”
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These questions served as jumping off points for us to unpack and discuss Life in the Court of Matane.
All Lit Up: Animals, real and mythical, feature throughout the book. What do you think they represent? What do you think Dupont is saying about them?
MANDY – "My reading of the animals represent the narrators current feelings about his situation. They are mirrors that reflect his circumstances back to him. And in cases like with the owl in the end, they’re his own psyche leading him to certain actions, and reflecting his inner most thoughts.”
LEYLA – “The owl at the end of the novel seemed symbolic of Quebec as a whole.”
LAURA – "They were almost avatars for him at those ages. I loved the device and thought it was interesting. [...] The passage about Laika the dog is asking all these questions about loyalty and care for this animal when really the ultimate demise is the plan for the dog. You can see this kid [the narrator] living in this dysfunctional home thinking when will my loyalty be rewarded. I thought it was moving and fun and strange enough to keep me really engaged.”
TAN – "I thought it was interesting that his animal affinities changed over time. As a young person a puppy feels relatable and that reliance on others and looking to your caregivers and having that sense of unfailing loyalty is very reflective of your state as a child. But as an almost adult whose ready to step into the world he gains this affinity to the great horned owl who has deeper roots.”
ALU: Escapism dominates much of the narrator’s childhood. For example, he chooses to transform his trailer into an imaginary kingdom called the Court of Matane where his father is Henry VIII. What function does this serve? What do you think is the significance of this?
LEYLA – "I highlighted this passage: 'The only way to make it out of the oppressive realm of childhood while remaining true to yourself is to become a philosopher. You can’t do anything about your situation other than interpret it and thus transcend it.' You notice the narrator several times giving into the whims of Anne Boleyn and giving into her strictness about learning math, and then with his dad about lifting weights. He accepts his plight and gets into it. I thought of those two things as how he transcends the chaos and repression in the court.”
MANDY – “Dupont does a pretty fantastic job of creating a world within a world that softly shields the narrator from his situation but also adds a soft layer for the reader so that we can read this as entertainment despite the dysfunctional family dynamics."
TAN – “I think he does a good job of exhibiting a child’s sense of drama in life. Because of all the metaphors with the king and queen and the court, and having that lens for us to view it in we get all these allegories you wouldn’t get with a straight telling of his family situation growing up.”
LAURA - “The court references are a really elaborate framing device. I thought it worked well with what was happening in Quebec with the shutting down of church.”
ALU: The politics of separatist Quebec is tightly knit within the story. What are some key instances of this and how does this influence the narrator’s identity?
MANDY- “Eric adopts his parents political views and takes them to a school where many of the students are not for the independence of Quebec, which further alienates him from his classmates. You can see the parents politics playing out through the children at school.”
LAURA – “In Matane, the narrator and his family are the separatists and the way it plays out in school is great. Also, I’d never read a book set in the Gaspé Peninsula; I learned a lot."
BARB – "I remember knowing a lot about separatist movement, that also resonates with me. It brought back a lot of personal memories too. Also, this book is like David Richard Adams meets David Sedaris.”
LEYLA – “I liked how you could see the parents’ politics translated through the children.”
ALU: Life in the Court of Matane is a work of autofiction, a genre that’s grown in popularity, in which author and narrator share an identity. How does this affect your reading of the novel, if at all?
TAN – “Twenty years ago this genre didn’t exist and now it’s a huge important genre winning major awards.”
MANDY – “The blending of a reality that is supposed to be real but is actually fiction adds a touch of whimsy or magic to the novel that for me makes it that much more memorable and adds to the spirit of the novel.”
BARB – “I really enjoy autofiction as a genre. I don’t see the issue with a novel as whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.”
ALU: Are there any stand-out passages in the novel that resonated with you?
LEYLA – "There’s a passage about the word vergeblich, that I thought was great: 'Vergeblich means to not give oneself, to be unable to give oneself something for lack of means. I had no trouble at all learning this word years later. I had carried it within me since Matane. I had the content, all I was missing was the container.'"
MANDY - "Eric imagining Laika describing her experience in space really touched me. I thought the whole exchange was captivating; it was sad too, and haunting. On page 185 Laika says, 'You just float. Life loses all the heaviness that makes people sad and tired.' It left such an impression on me."
LAURA – “I loved the passage where the narrator is describing the father drinking. It was engaging and funny. I also loved all the passages around the narrator's preparation for literary stuff. He thinks his parents will finally appreciate his gifts, but it’s just one more way he’s let down and different from his family.”
TAN – "There’s a quote about literature towards the end that resonated with me. “Literature was to once again become an unspoiled continent that I would continue to explore alone, armed with a machete and a rifle, discovering behind each moss-covered rock whole worlds whose only purpose was to change mine, little by little.” It’s such a good description of what a good book is and does."
ALU: Are there lingering questions from the book you're still thinking about?
BARB – “I wondered how dysfunctional his childhood really was and how terrible his parents were.”
TAN – “What about his sister? What happened to her. I wanted to know more.”
LEYLA: "I wanted to read a whole other story about the grandparents."
MANDY – “What happens to Eric between his time in Austria and later in Montreal when he’s an adult?”
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