A Matter of Gravity is about the forces that draw people together and give life meaning. Hermann, an embalmer and a doctor’s son, devotes himself to the dead because, unlike his father, he cannot cure the living. Hu, an ailing concert pianist, dwells in memories of past glory. Hermann is a devoted neighbour to the residents of his apartment building, a population of “quiet old things,” elderly ladies who have seen better days. Hu is facing an uncertain future and must make his peace with the past.
Hermann feels he is eternally separated from the world by a “permanent cushion of air” that keeps him hovering above humanity. Hu is bound to a nightmarish reality, contending with emphysema, rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease.
A mysterious manuscript, possibly written by one of Hermann’s centenarian neighbours, connects one man with the other, and an afternoon at the park eventually leads the two of them back to Hu’s piano. This marks the beginning of an extraordinary relationship that will change both men’s lives.
A Matter of Gravity is a sensitive, delicate, and humorous novel that unfolds in liminal spaces: between life and death, youth and age, earth and sky. The transformative meeting between Hermann and Hu brings out the question that paralyzes each man, the question all of us must answer for ourselves: Faced with death, how do we embrace life in all its contradictions, its dissatisfactions, its messiness? In the encounter of two engaging individuals, Hélène Vachon provides a possible answer, one that will leave readers smiling and perhaps change their lives as well.
Allow me to introduce myself.
I am a man, forty-six years old. For those who may consider this description overly brief, I will add only this, since I don’t like to talk about myself: I am of average size and fat content, I travel little, preferably on foot, and I have a noisy heart. One last detail, and not the least: I am handsome, but only from the back. As if nature in a tragic moment of distraction got mixed up and confused front and back. One day when I was trying on a suit, I caught sight of myself in the three-part mirror of the store. For a moment, I didn’t recognize myself. From the back, I’m quite simply somebody, an observation that is both cheering and sad if you consider that it is impossible to live, as it were, on the wrong side, that there always comes a time when you have to turn around, and it is on such occasions that I go to pieces.
I live alone, except for two cats taken in one winter night when I was particularly cold. They walked right in and made themselves at home. I followed them in, closed the door and continued. We respect each other. They let me sleep till four in the morning, when I have to get up to feed them. They take up a lot of space in the bed, and I don’t, and in any case, I sleep on an angle. But it’s for women. I’ll come back to women. Things don’t come easy, it’s an extra you have to accept, you have no choice. They’re there with their bodies around and it’s very disturbing. Not counting the fact that you never know why they like you. Is it for your back? For your front? For your interior? Your exterior? For your upper body? Your lower body? Unless they like all of you, any old way, just as you are, without packaging. Anything is possible with them.
Or else it’s for the seed. It’s priceless these days. With the rain of deaths that’s flooding the planet, the loss of income that’s so depopulating and depressing that they have to clone the existing models, I sense a formidable reproductive frenzy among my female associates. I’m an only child and I was never taught to share. The idea of giving up a bit of myself distresses me. We spend our lives scattering ourselves. Sweat, tears, excrement, at a certain point everything deserts you and integrity is sorely tested.
Finalist, Prix France-Québec, 2011
“You take leave of this book with renewed joy in your heart.” — Jean Fugère
“A gem of a novel that is both grave and cheerful. We sense Boris Vian’s influence in the rollicking way the author deals with disease and tragedy, but the text carves its own path through constant innovation. [A Matter of Gravity] may well lead us to death’s door, but its main impact is to stir the blood in our veins.” — Voir
“A compelling book by Hélène Vachon … She combines with unusual skill dark humour and humanism in this gentle and sensitive tale … A meditation on disease, death and old age–the building where Hermann lives is populated by very old people, more or less likeable, though each is more eccentric than the other—[A Matter of Gravity] tackles these difficult issues with surprising grace.”