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"Conspiration autour d'une chanson d'amour": Book Review

Posted by Caitlin / April 5, 2013

conspirations-05-04-2013.jpg"Conspiration autour d'une chanson d'amour" is Montreal author Émilie Andrewes' fourth novel published in French by local publishers XYZ. The first thing that seems relevant to say about this book is that it feels almost like a collection of everything. Because that is an inherently impossible fact, I will say that it is a meeting point and at times a collision point between genres, eras, tones and seasons.

Andrewes captivated me from the start with the lofty and over-the-top history and origins story of her main character Emmanuelle Archbishop. Even her name implies the mix of French and English going back centuries. She invokes one of my favourite tropes from my teens, the female trait passed down through all the women in the family, by way of the aunt in this case.

I was also engrossed by the character's old English blood, her family's adventures involving a mummy in Peru, her visceral fear of Marguerite Duras and her mystery-novel-writing aunt's suspicious death. All that within the first five pages! And I haven't even gotten to her wedding interrupted by the police ten years earlier because her husband-to-be-but-obviously-isn't-in-the end runs a television contraband ring in Greece, a royalty allegory, her own imprisonment for cigarette contraband, the past death of her brother, topped off by a case of amnesia, adultery and an Aerosmith concert.

These things are all great. The problem is that the book is 141 pages long. It might be self-evident that the author does not quite take the time to develop anything in great depth and that, in the end, it feels more like being taken through a whirlwind Turkish bazar than a literary experience. And that is too bad.

Andrewes is clearly an intelligent, talented author who knows how to build intrigue, but there is more material here than in "War and Peace" in a book not much longer than a novella.

I was completely hooked for the entire (short) first half where Emmanuelle is serving her sentence in a woman's prison in the dead of winter. The writing is beautiful, sad and hard with moments of humour. The analogy of following in the footsteps of the love of her life is clear without being awkward. The reader is intelligently brought back into her past through sensory cues and sees how the author is playing with gender roles through genre.

As a tough woman in prison, she thinks back to a scene of a man dressed as a cowboy leaving white flowers on her doorstep as her summer dress floats in the wind. It's just the level of obvious use of genre and juxtaposition that I like. But then, after leaving prison, she hits her head and the sensitive yet assertive narrative I was looking forward to turns into a strange adventure of partial amnesia-induced travel that made me lose a lot of faith in the character.

Lastly, what the book seems to truly be built on, the tragic and violent loss of her older brother and her subsequent pain, gets lost in the mix. There are about 10 different books here and they would all individually be fantastic.andrewes-05-04-2013.jpgÉmilie Andrewes

Published by XYZ

141 pages




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