Carnival by Rawi Hage
Come to the free launch of Rawi Hage's brand new novel, Carnival. There will be readings, music and refreshments beginning at 7:00 pm on October 10th at 5295 Avenue du Parc, the bar with no name.
I'm excited that I get to write about Rawi Hage's third novel, Carnival. While Hage is certainly no newcomer to the word game, he is an author I love to root for. He has won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and has been nominated for the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award, just to name a few. I look forward to seeing if this truly unique story causes the fuss I feel it should.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Montreal-based author, he was born in Lebanon and moved to New York in the eighties before veering northward. His writing, while being poetic, funny and tragic, bares the imprint of displacement.
Expats are the true soul of this novel. Hage places them as society's central players that make the city go round. Literally, they are cab drivers. Specifically immigrant cab drivers that, as most of the forces in this book would have it, take on larger-than-life and almost mythical qualities.
The narrator who calls himself Fly lays the world out for the reader in extreme and contradicting proportions that broke my heart and made me fall in love with books again. Fly is a book fanatic who was raised in a travelling circus and is part of a somewhat anonymous city's web of cabdrivers. He separates his profession into spiders and flies, those who wait around for prey to find them and those who wander and roam the city. There is probably no need to clarify which side he is on...
Fly is the immigrant prophetic taxi driver whose story we have all wondered about. And here, Hage has painted the fascinating answer to our query in strokes of genius. Fly frequents the worlds in between without occupying them. He is the ally of prostitutes and transsexuals; the child of circus performers later raised by a bearded lady, he lives with those who will become homeless, relates the tales of the homesick and culturally displaced and might be an accomplice to the crimes of many misfits. He is from nowhere and lives at the margins of margins.
Taking place during a carnival that lasts an unclear number of days in an unclear place, this book blurs as many boundaries as it can get its hands on. The sacred mixes with the profane, religion and history become Fly's masturbation material when twisted in his infinite imagination. Prostitutes are "working for the cause" and books are there to absorb our lives, not the other way around.
We are drawn into a world that seems to exist in a vacuum and yet contains so many of the heartbreaks of reality that it can be nothing else. I feared for Fly as he seemed to get dragged into unsavoury situations where his friend dressed as a clown becomes a literary vigilante. Harmless and idealistic at first, his friend's actions quickly set off a string of chaos that mirrors the ever-present disorder of the high-voltage carnival.
The only thing I can suggest more strongly than picking up this book and letting its myriad of grotesque and beautiful colours take you over is to go back and read Hage's first two novels. This story of endless-seeming layers does get the reader feeling a bit frantic, but I truly find pleasure in the game of pulling off someone's carnival mask only to reveal another disguise.
Published by House of Anansi Press
Poster photo courtesy of House of Anansi Press
Author's photo courtesy of Madeleine Thien