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Hubert Aquin - As he awaits trial, a young separatist writes an espionage story in the psychiatric ward of the Montreal prison where he has been detained.

Hubert Aquin, Next Episode. Trans. by Sheila Fischman. New Canadian Library, 2001.

First published in l965, Hubert Aquin’s Next Episode is a disturbing and yet deeply moving novel of dissent and distress. As he awaits trial, a young separatist writes an espionage story in the psychiatric ward of the Montreal prison where he has been detained. Sheila Fischman’s bold new translation captures the pulsating life of Aquin’s complex exploration of the political realities of contemporary Quebec.

A member of the FLQ idles away his time in a Montreal psychiatric hospital by writing a quasi-autobiographical spy thriller set in 1960s Switzerland. The volatile hero of this flamboyant novel within a novel reunites with his long-lost lover and fellow revolutionary "K" only to embark on a mission (on K's request) to assassinate a wealthy RCMP informer known as H. de Heutz. Twice, he is handed a perfect opportunity to complete his mission and twice, Hamlet-like, he falters and fails.
Like Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, Next Episode captures the mood of muddling desperation and hysteria experienced at the ground level of a terrorist operation. Hubert Aquin's passionate first novel galvanized a generation of Quebec youth when it first appeared in French in 1965. Canadian film actor Carl Marotte captures the urgency and breathtaking lyricism of this anguished intellectual tour de force, which originally aired on CBC Radio's "Between the Covers."

What I liked/disliked about the book: This was a different read for me, not my usual genre and it is one you need to read multiple times, to full grasp the full meaning of the book, but in the end not a bad read.
The book was a story within a story, but in this case the author made it work. Although the content of it and the meaning behind it, was hard to follow, I still found it to be an interesting read. Not at all what I expected when I first came across what the book was suppose to be about. I was expecting a spas suppose to be about. I was expecting a spy novel, with small subtle metaphor about the Quebec revolution. But instead it was a completely different experience. The "spy" novel side of the story was a good ploy to reflect, what I believe was the prisoners own life, and I think there was a lot of parallels/metaphors to the author's own life.
What I didn't like, was also what I liked. I wasn't expecting such a heavy book, that was filled with so much hidden messages I guess you could call it, about the Quebec Revolution. I picked the book up because it was a Canada Reads Winner, and an author I've never read. I was expecting a basic story within a story. A prisoner writing a spy novel, that reflects himself - which you can read it as and leave it at that, but you can't help but spot that there is more to it.  
Would I recommend it to read: I think I would. It was a different read for me, but an interesting method on how it was told. It was a story within a story so to speak. But I think it's a book worth reading. -

WHEN THE AUTHOR of a "first" novel has already been as active a writer as Hubert Aquin, it is difficult not to situate his novel among earlier writings such as his political essays in Liberté, of which he was a founder and editor, or his memorable film-script propound- ing a philosophy of dangerous sports, which appeared on GBC-TV. When the author has been as prominent a revolu- tionary Separatist as Aquin — briefly leader of a political party, panelist tour- ing Canada to present the separatist view- point, and more recently inmate of the Montreal Prison because of his revolu- tionary activity — it is impossible not to consider his novel's social background and implications. As the narrator of this story says of the confessional monologue which he is writing in prison and which forms the present novel: "Sa significa- tion véritable ne peut être dissociée de la date de sa composition, ni des événements qui se sont déroulés dans un laps de temps donné entre mon pays natal et mon exil". That is to say, the story has documen- tary actuality in spite of the narrator's romantic idealism, social alienation, and revolt, echoing the literary "mal du siècle" of the Byronic and Balzacian heroes with whom he frequently identi- fies himself. His own sense of maledic- tion and force is authentic. He belongs to that post-war generation of Quebecers whose youthful anxiety and ferment, doubled with doubts of national identity, found in Europe not the land of their roots or aspirations, but a third state of exile. Here, their dreams of freedom and self-identity took t h e painfully nostalgic form of a homeland like themselves — suffering, powerless, incomplete: Quebec. Within themselves they soon knew that the convenient, traditional image pro- posed to them by compatriot "poètes du terroir" was a strip of their own flesh to be torn off, if they were to find their true selves. Even as they heard the bitter song of revolt sung by a handful of illustrious compatriots already in permanent exile, some of them knew within themselves that they could pursue their dreams only in what the narrator of this story terms "la terre meurtrie et chaude de notre invention nationale". On their return to Montreal or Ghicoutimi, offspring of a "peuple inédit", their escape from eth- nical anonymity appeared as a personal imperative to invent, in the present void of their lives, the movement, rhythm, and style of their own nonexistent history. "Cracher le feu, tromper la mort, ressus- citer cent fois, courir le mille en moins de quatre minutes, introduire le lance- flamme en dialectique, et la conduite- suicide en politique, voilà comment j'ai établi mon style," says the narrator of his own invention. Inevitably, such self- genesis risked becoming a programme of action for its own sake and, hence, of wild violence, excluding the revolutionary ideals of absolute love and freedom in the new-born nation which itself justified the action. Condemned to the ever dis- tant future, the absolute ideals of the revolutionary dream in turn condemned social and political action to gratuitous- ness and sterility, its proponents to terror- ism and isolation. The inventors of identity became prisoners of their own invention. "Où es-tu revolution?" "Où es-tu mon amour?" What has become of liberty? The prisoner-narrator of Prochain Epi- sode, recalling, reliving, and recording memories of the revolutionary dream, adventure, and failure, writes his novel. Through these daily, interrupted sessions of self-nourishment, examination, and embellishment, the mind in confinement keeps itself alive, drugs its despair, walks the narrow line between lucidity and hyprocrisy, and seeks, gropingly, a way out of the past and present into some future beyond defeat. "V oilà un roman d'action," advertises the book-jacket. T o be sure, the characters seem to be from the world of James Bond and the plot races through Switzerland at the speed of an international sports-car rally; but the pursuit of "H. de Heutz," a counter- revolutionary of unknown identity, by the narrator, a revolutionary agent of the FLQ, winds and unwinds in con- centric circles around a single, forever unaccomplished act: the assassination of the elusive "H. de Heutz" in time for the narrator's rendezvous with "K", blond muse of the revolution, "femme absolue" with her promise of absolute love and freedom. Although the symbolical nature of characters and plot permits, by its very mystery, the most outrageous turns of events, the action takes place less in the cloak and dagger chase around moun- tain curves than in the involved spiral patterns that whirl the narrator's mind in and out of the luminous waters of Lake Leman, in and out of the depres- sing darkness of its Montreal prison, back and forth through merging décors of childhood, literary recollections, real and imaginary travels, fears and compulsion, mental and emotional worlds preceding, accompanying, and following defeat. As the action of this "spy story" is situated in these repeated attempts of the narrator-prisoner's mind to save it- self by the spontaneous recomposition on paper of all the lines of his life and, in this intricate design, to decipher the sign of his own identity, so too the mystery of the story lies in the unravelling of the Gordian knot of his own personality. In that sense, whether waiting in an empty castle to kill the mysterious enemy named "H. de Heutz" or waiting in vain for "K" to come or waiting in an empty cell for the day of his own judgement, the narra- tor can say as he composes his story: "Je n'écris pas, je suis écrit... L'imaginaire est une cicatrice. Ce que j'invente m'est vécu; mort d'avance ce que je tue". For, all along, "H. de Heutz," vague enemy of the revolution-to-be who escapes, and "K" who disappears, taking love and freedom with her, existed — so the reader may deduce — as obsessive figures invented by the narrator's mind to people the sterile world of action for its own sake and to incarnate the destructive goals of a revolutionary dream. Extended to the level of "notre invention nationale," the programme of action and revolution mask the equally compulsive wishes for national self-genesis and self-destruction. Here is a "spy tale" in which the de- feated hero triumphs by courageously un- masking himself and his own cause. Through the narrator's constant iden- tification of himself with his "peuple in- édit" and its search for identity ("Je suis le symbole fracturé de la révolution du Québec"; "Je suis un peuple défait"), his story dictates an autobiographical and historical interpretation. However, it can- not be confined to that dimension. At the outset, the narrator states: "Rien n'empêche le déprimé politique de con- férer une coloration esthétique à cette sécrétion verbeuse; rien ne lui interdit de transférer sur cette œuvre improvisée la signification dont son existence se trouve dépourvue et qui est absente de l'avenir de son pays". That is not to say that Prochain Episode in any way resembles a traditional novel. The narrator's syste- matic exploitation of his own "inco- hérence ontologique" gives to the story the intemporel scope of Lautréamont's Chants, Kafka's Castle, Camus' Fall, or Robbe-Grillet's Marienbad. As in the "nouveau roman," time divisions col- lapse before the onslaught of the narra- tor's dream and memories; external realities and relationships fade into a universe of things, "cette galerie d'em- lèmes oniriques" described and quizzed at length; words dissolve along with casual logic into the dynamic language of baroque imagery. However, if we use Moravia's definition of the "nouveau roman" as "a programme novel, a plani- fied solution" of the post-Joycean crisis, the originality of Prochain Episode would seem to be in its very refusal of external organization and technical structure. Its originality is to be found in the narra- tor's resolution: "Infini, je le serai à ma façon et au sens propre". This novel, like the story of Quebec's unquiet revolution, lacks a final chapter, a next episode. Unfinished, it is a living page of a young generation's history and of its author's paraliterary career. From the novel, from the past of unfettered action, from the silence of the narrator's isolation, and from the dream of the absolute, future event, arises the same, intensely eloquent, convincing cry : "Mon pays me fait mal." It should be heard across the country. - C. H. Moore

conor says:     
Mark says:
Well, first off, it is Prochain Épisode – I do not need Hubert Aquin gunning me down for some slight to the Québécois. This might sound morbid or depressing, but I actually liked the fatalistic tone that Aquin, or Aquin’s narrator if it really is a separate character (which I doubt), takes with the book. It adds a greater sense of urgency to me, that he has been willing to give his life for the cause of Québécois sovereignty. This book is not just about his search for identity but for Québec’s search as well. The Institute where he is losing himself can easily be Canada, where the Canadian captors are swallowing up Québec’s identity. “The salary of national depression is my failure” – as he fails, Québec fails. Like Québec, he continues to struggle for freedom despite no idea if he, or the province, will ever be successful. “Endless imprisonment is undoing me. How can I believe that I shall escape? I’ve tried a thousand times to leave: there is no way to do it.” The separatists feel the exact same way, and every successive failed vote and failed measure with the federal government makes the despair sink in even further.
The fatalism helps convey how significant the idea of an independent Québec really is to so many in the province – it really is a matter of life and death. The ambiguous ending is necessary too, as Québec’s story is not quite complete, and that is the story to this day – otherwise we would not have a Bloc Québécois trying to be part of the would-be ruling coalition.
Charlie says:
The Next Episode was an incredibly fascinating read, due to its subject matter, content, and most importantly style. Aquin’s mise en abyme structure lends itself to endless interpretations and ruminations on the nature of the action in the text and what it reveals about his state while writing the novel and his viewpoint on what he saw as a revolution in the works. What struck me the most while reading this text is Aquin’s sense of helpless longing. He spins a tale that represents a revolutionary ideal of himself and his potential contribution to the cause of separatism/sovereignty. Unfortunately his contributions were exceedingly minor in comparison to his spy character, who is actually able to wield his gun, rather than just getting arrested for it. I loved the mirror image symbolism of the planes of existence in the novel through Lac Leman. It’s a brilliant way of conceptualizing his own style within the text through first person narration of two different incarnations of himself. Of course, there were many points while reading where I had to go back and confirm whose point of view and in what location the action or narration was taking place.
My favorite scene in this novel is undoubtedly his trailing of H. de Heutz, subsequent capture, and escape from captivity. The narration is lively, exciting, and full of great commentary and imagery. The fact that the events are less than plausible (which is admitted by the narrator) does not affect the reading of the passage, rather it livens it. The inherent humor of the spy and H de Heutz, another inverted image of the spy character, using an identical story which both men knew was facetious is an interesting and amusing sort of deus ex machina. These type of idiosyncratic plot devices and narrative techniques make this book a fascinating read.
Janell says:  
I feel like the absurd amount of time it has taken me to respond to this blog post stands as proof of just how much I did not like this book. Next Episode is by far my least favorite book that we have read this semester. The book’s style especially did not resonate with me. When faced with challenging reading I find that it is always helpful to read with extreme attention to detail. This book at times went beyond challenging and seemed more like a secret code needing translation in order to be understood. I found the first 30 pages of the book the most difficult to read, and didn’t mind the rest of the book as much (although it might have been just because I became accustomed to the author’s style of writing. In general, Aquin took the literary advice of “placing oneself into one’s writing” to a whole new level.
I liked the subject matter enough, but the style of the piece made that subject matter less interesting and harder to understand. I liked the emotional imagery of the book. I found Aquin’s descriptions of hopelessness and despair while imprisoned, wrought with human emotion. But at the same time I found this imagery repetitive. I felt Aquin said the same exact thing many different times with only a slight modification of words used. I found this especially evident when he talked about K. I feel like I read the same description of their “fiery night of passion” at twenty different points in the book. I feel like the author’s tendency to be repetitive detracted from the meaning of his emotional outbursts making them commonplace and not solitary and significant.
One element of the book that I did appreciate was Aquin’s comments on originality, which is that it is an idealized and futile goal. When evaluating his spy novel Aquin says “originality at all costs is a chivalrous ideal, an aesthetic Holy Grail that falsifies any expedition” (63). Anyone who looks solely for originality in their actions will find their actions coming up short of meeting such a goal. Actions and thoughts develop from previous actions and thoughts. There are no original ideas or actions because there are no ideas or actions committed without the influence of the past. The author says, “the imagination is a scar. I live my own invention and what I kill is already dead” (62). I really loved this quotation in the book, finding the language and the idea it presents startling. By comparing the imagination to the scar, Aquin suggests that the imagination is merely the “scars” of past experiences. The inventions of one’s imagination are unoriginal because they are consistently colored by the past.
Lauren G says:  
I had a really hard time reading this book (and I totally forgot about the blog post! So sorry!) but I was able to become somewhat engaged in it. I thought that the style of writing was so different than anything I had really read before and because I had no expectations for it, knowing ahead of time that it would be a different and difficult book to read, I was able to kind of lose myself in the text and accept it for what it was. I really thought that Aquin’s pain, frustration and longing for something greater, was palpable. The style of writing was disconcerting and took some getting used to. I felt almost toyed with, because the stories didn’t really allow me to become very engaged in one or the other. The constant switching kept me aware of the writer, aware of the writing process and it really made me think about how stories are created. When I read novels, I never think about what went in to writing the story; I never think about the writing process. This story kept reminding me that there is a process to writing and it’s important to each author. Another thing that I realized when I was reading this book was how much power an author has over me as a reader. When I read a book, I read it, I generally become engaged, and I accept it for what it meant to me and how I interperted it. However, I’m realizing that perhaps it is the author who makes me feel the way I feel. In Next Episode, the style of the writing had me feeling unsettled and sometimes frustrated, and I believe it was totally intentional. Aquin knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote the book and he made the reader (me) feel the emotions that he felt.
Next Episode was not the most enjoyable book for me to read, but it really opened my eyes to a different style of writing and how an author can draw reactions from his readers through his writing.
Lindsey says:  
I think that the fact the book is difficult to read is what makes it so interesting. It is not a book you can quickly skim through without a lot of thought. The challenges this book provides draws the reader in and makes them pay close to attention in order to try and get an understanding of the story. At the beginning I wasn’t very fond of the book, but the more I read the more I wanted to know about the story and the closer I looked. At the end I was still met with some confusion, but also a sort of satisfaction. I imagine this is the kind of book that I will go back to read again.
Lauren Griswold says:  
I think I would have to say that I actually really appreciated reading The Next Episode. I’m definitely not saying that I have a total understanding of whatever it was Aquin was trying to impress upon his readers, but, like Brian said, I feel it was worth my while to read a book written in such an atypical manner. Not only did I find it worthwhile, but by the end of the novel, I found myself liking it. Usually when I like a book it’s because it challenged me to work through analyses of it and come to an understanding that I can feel proud of…this was not the case at all with The Next Episode; rather, I think I was just a big fan of Aquin’s diction. Weird, I know, to base your judgment on a book solely on its diction, but that would definitely have been the selling point for me—it was so intensely colorful and textured, but had a reader-friendly dynamic flow that I definitely digged. I also seriously liked the layering of identities and realities in the text—being made to question whether Aquin was one with the narrator at points and whatnot. On this point I would have to say that unfortunately, this was one aspect of the novel that really intrigued me, but that just seemed out of my intellectual reach, for I couldn’t really figure it out. Essentially, I did like The Next Episode, but I didn’t love it—perhaps I would have had a higher appreciation for it if I could have read it through again and spent more time analyzing it.
Grace says:  

I’ve been putting this off some. Its not that I disliked the book. For me, its more about the fact that it was a struggle to read. I like linear stories with a clear plot and a clear setting. I don’t like having to seek meaning out of analogies, that however not a stretch, are certainly easier to comprehend when knowing the history of a particular event. I completely appreciate the idea of making reading a difficult task, one where the reader must put the story together on their own, without the help of the author/narrator. In this case, I feel that the book was just over my head. I’m just your average reader, I guess. I like to read at a pace where I feel like I’m getting somewhere. Reading this book was like walking through tar for me. I got the notions and concepts, but I hated every step of the process. Hate is a strong word: I disliked it very much, though. Aquin was certainly successful in challenging the reader. I did really like that he was writing a story in a story. I know it’s completely contradictory to almost everything I’ve just said, but I thought it was a very unique concept, especially since we (the reader) were involved deeply in both stories. The reality of the author/narrator and the fictionality, if you will, of his character. Yes, I struggled, but it was worth it to understand the talents of Aquin and his unique perspective of a novel.
Brian Whalen says:  
My response to the Next Episode is much like everyone else’s. The book has a schizophrenic feeling to it, and I found myself re-reading passages in order to find out just what Aquin was saying. I found the story within a story to be of particular difficulty when trying to get through the chapters, but I would not say it was a worthless effort. The book is really interesting, and it truly does make the reader feel a bit loopy. Will is right, he truly does incorporate everything necessary for this book to be a difficult read. The book is an interesting look into the craziness that Aquin apparently lived with, and it comes as no surprise that his life ended in suicide. It is probably not a book I will read again, but it was worthwhile to see a book written in such a different style.
Chris P says:  

Like many of my classmates at first I was befuddled by Next Episode. But as our discussions of it in class grew, and as I read more of the book, I began to enjoy it more and more. At this point in this semester, I believe that Next Episode is my favorite book of all the ones we’ve read. The most intriguing part of the book has to have been the doubling and the Mes En Abime structure which lead to several head scratching moments. I agree with those who claim that it felt like I (the reader) was the crazy one. But it was this insanity or lack of knowledge that really appealed to me as a reader. I had no clue what was going on, but it was fun wondering which person was doing the talking in certain situations: was it the narrator, the spy, or the author?
 I thought that The Next Episode was one of the most challenging pieces of literature I have ever read. I started this novel three times and found myself going back and rereading sections. The parts that I found particularly confusing were the story within a story and, the constant changing of perspective and tenses both past and present. I think that this themes is unique to The Next Episode and a very interesting outlook on story writing. There is no real flow or any sort of organization to the story as a whole however; I also think that this is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel. Aquin really puts you through hell as a reader and makes you really think about what you are reading. Aquin is brilliant by doing this because he is trying to get you to understand what it’s like to go crazy and he, in a way, makes you yourself go crazy while reading this work. The Next episode seems to incorporate everything that a reader would need to become extremely confused. There are references to things that I could never understand and constant changes between plot and characters both past and present. The novel is very gripping at times and I did thoroughly enjoy reading it however, it took a very long time.
Talbrey says:
I found this book extremely dense and chaotic. I liked the language and phrases used throughout though. I found them kind of lulling and poetic. After reading the first couple of pages I was hooked on the idea of being able to finish the book and discuss it in class. I also really liked the repetition used throughout. I thought it really helped to bring focus on the important points or themes of the novel. This is not my favorite book, but I do appreciate it’s qualities. I think it takes an interesting personality to be able to write this type of book. It would be cool to look up more of Hubert Aquin books and see if they are just as crazy
maggie says:
I found the Next Episode to be quite confusing and difficult to keep up with at times. the story within a story, the dreams, language, going back and forth made it hard to figure out exactly what was going on. After reading more, I thought it was interesting. it was a mix of a love story with his insanity/lost reality. the idea that he kept drowning and resurfacing. He says, “From the contradiction no doubt come the wild fluctuations in what i write, a frenzied alternation of drownings and resurfacings. Whenever I come back to this paper a new episode is born.” its as if he is stuck and cannot escape. He feels betrayed by alot of things, by his country, by himself. Being in an institution and in a small confined area, makes him feel like he is drowning and once in awhile he comes back up for air, trapped in his spy narrative. Also the quote we discussed in class, i loved. “I follow this book from hour to hour and from day to day, and I’m no more likely to give up on it than I am to commit suicide. This broken book resembles me.” I love that line..this broken book resembles me. It defines the story, it defines the narrator and author. he is trapped between what is real and what is not. As he is writing this, he is also trying to figure out what is going on, and unsure of what to write even. Despite the confusion the Next Episode brings to the reader, i think its an interesting insight into the results of being confined for so long, unsure of your life and where its taking you. Aquin became literally stuck inside his story, fading in and out of it, unsure of how real it is because he is so lost in his own world that everything is blurred together
Stephanie says:
I have to agree with everyone that reading this book at first made me feel like I was on some weird drug trip. I had to reread lines three or four times and then still in the end be like, “What!?” But after finishing the novel I think that Aquin has done something spectacular with the duality of this novel. It is truly inspiring.
I, myself, enjoy writing about myself in a journalistic/memoir sort of style. (Probably due to my great love of talking about myself as much as I can) But I found it very genius that he found a new lens to talk about both himself and then this other party that read as neither fiction exactly or reality. And in between he injected this political fire that fueled a lot of his anger and self-loathing.
His novel inside the novel often reflected his life very closely, and in parts like on page 59 he says he is “loosing his way.” He as an author is becoming so far removed from what is real while he spends his time in this ward that he is riddled with demons that spew into “his spy novel” and then also come out when he chooses selectively to expose his awareness that we are present; there in the room “with him”, reading his words.
Like I had mentioned in class, I think that the narrative discourse is very clever and that he is breaking a boundary of literature (literary form) that people believed to be a “set in stone” rule. He indulges a weird desire to reveal the man behind the curtain (his author-self).
It reminds me of a film called “Suture” where throughout the whole film everyone refers to an African American man and a clearly opposite white man as “identical” and “indistinguishable” twins. I guess what I like most about this story is that like Danielle said, it leaves you thinking not just about this book, but what else can be done with the complex world of literature.
Danielle says:
I loved Next Episode. It is a completely different book then all the things we have read this semester and I found it refreshing. In reading it, you can’t expect to find answers and you can’t expect to have a cookie cutter story line placed before your eyes. The book can be frustrating but I view it as a complex work of art.
I love almost everything about this book. I love how Aquin plays with the different story lines; I love his use of imagery; I love certain words he uses and when he decides to throw them in. However, my favorite scenes were when he would refer to the fact that he was writing a book or that we were reading a book. Perhaps this is because I enjoy writing but when he says things like “packed inside my sentences”, “I dazzle myself with words”, “by writing to you I shall touch you”, “this broken book resembles me”, ” this nameless book is undecided”. I might be getting carried away but I feel like this book, these words are a reflection of whichever personality. This book stands for him. I feel his passion for writing and how important it is.
I’m not sure, exactly, but that it what I take away from it. I love those references. In making reference to forms of writing I view that as a work of art alone. I think it’s beautiful and complicated and, at times, depressing/upsetting. It is meant to be deep and to give you something to think about. I loved this book!
Skylar says:
As you noted, The Next Episode has been the most difficult book we have read this semester. As far as its style, I hated it. I think reading should be something that allows the reader to escape, to slip into the world the book either describes or creates. The Next Episode requires that the reader try to sort out a tangled web of double characters and a variety of other confusing aspects (which may not be possible). I can honesty say that The Next Episode is the worst book I have ever read because of these huge demands. Maybe if Aquin had stayed in the present tense (ie leaving out the spy novel of the past) it would have been an easier read.
However, one aspect that I did find interesting was his reference to water and how it relates to his suicidal tendencies. I noticed that Aquin eventually commited suicide, was the author diagnosed with some kind of mental illness? This aspect of the novel seemed so raw and real, unlike the rest of the super complicated aspects.
Brittany says:
I found The Next Episode a very challenging book. It was hard because I finished this book and still had no real idea about what was going on. I am not really a fan of books like these because I hate not understanding and knowing the characters. In the Tin Flute the reader was able to know each aspect of a character and why they acted the way they did.
One part I found very interesting, in the book The Next Episode, was the way the author used multiple personalities or identities. The author tries to engage the reader in these and switches them often. Another aspect that I also liked was the love story that was tied into the story. The writing style is extremely creative, but hard to follow. I was not surprised in class when we were debating the authors own state of mind.
Sandy says:
One of the issues surrounding Next Episode that I found myself wondering about, especially after establishing the matter in class, was the “metafiction” component of the novel; its seemingly ubiquitous awareness of the writing process, and the motives that Hubert Aquin might have had in including this in the text. Why might an author choose to constantly call into question the distinction between author, narrator, and subject? Why might Aquin want to implicate himself so deeply in his tale of espionage, betrayal, and failed revolution?
Naturally, in a text so fundamentally personal and occluded, I found myself drawn to the passages that resounded most with the broader human experience. Passages like that on pages 16-21, which describes the spy’s “road of light and euphoria” – his one night reunited with “K”, or on pages 76-78, which describes the spy’s sumptuous lunch, taken in the midst of a chase. These scenes were favorites of mine not only in that they broke up the narrator’s gloomy “metafictional” commentary with some rich imagery and ironic humor, but also in that they seemed to me the most accessible. As a human being, I could partake of the joy that the narrator was feeling in these moments.
I think that if we all feel this way about those passages – and I suspect many of us do – than perhaps Aquin has succeeded in implicating us, as readers, in his narrative as well. The idea that “misery loves company” aside, by tapping into a small number of essential human impulses and desires, and blurring the line between text and what we might call reality, Aquin includes us in his scheme; a player in a revolution that is struggling to get off the ground.
Jess says:
I really enjoyed reading Next Episode. Like Megan, I too had to read the first fifty or so pages over again. After reading this over and finishing the book I came to appreciate the odd prose that Aquin used to tell his story. I also agree with Nat that this prose made you feel as though you were the crazy one. When I had first read the first fifty pages, I was really confused and felt that I was just losing my mind, but after going back and carefully re-reading those pages, I understood what was happening and came to appreciate the book that much more.
I thought that the most interesting piece of the novel was the doubling that occurred. I especially loved the story that was told by the narrator and H de Heutz. I thought that it was humorous that it was used twice but also clever that he would use the same story to show the fact that he has a double. As we pointed out in class, the narrator refers to his captor as his double. I would not have caught this point if it hadn’t been for our discussion, but it further reiterates the point of the narrator and H de Heutz being doubles.
Another interesting point in the novel is the whole idea of the mise-en-abyme structure. I love the way that Aquin jumps around so much between his spy novel and his life in the institution. It leaves the reader thinking about what will come next and where we are in the story. By using this structure, it also helps us to see this idea of the doubling that occurs so often.
Nathaniel says:
I actually thought that The Next Episode was fun to read. I pretty much skimmed it because if I tried to understand what happened I would just get confused. This meant that I didn’t realize that the narrator was a different person than the character he doubled until I read the epilogue after the book. Then I sort of got it. I liked being confused, too. At times I felt like I was the insane one, or the one on weird drugs, trying to read Aquin and make sense of it. That especially happened when the main character took H. de Heutx into the woods. At first, I couldn’t understand why the same story was being told again, and I still don’t really. Then I had no idea why he didn’t just shoot him. Finally, it took me a while to figure out that the main character had been followed and was running away into the woods. I’m not even sure that he was followed; the way he thinks to himself he could actually just be paranoid delusional. The weirdness of the prose fits the weirdness of a spy that can’t bring himself to carry out his mission and kill, or be on time to meet for his next instructions, or realize when to lay low as his organization is being taken down.
Megan says:
At first, it was really hard for me to get into Next Episode; I actually read the first 40 pages and had to start over again because I was so confused. However, after finishing it, I would have to say it is my favorite book that we have read so far in the course.
I like the fact that the narrator, who could be a double for Aquin, himself, is also doubling as the protagonist in his own novel. I don’t mind that the point of view is confusing, because Aquin’s language is so beautiful. His fervent love and obsession for K, or Quebec, is especially expressed eloquently and figuratively. Also, towards the end of the novel, I started to get the feeling that the narrator/protagonist almost wishes he were H. de Heutz, of his spy novel. He mentions on page 90, “H. de Heutz lives in a kind of altered universe that’s never been available to me, while I carry on my chaotic exile in hotels where I never really live.” He also admires and can identify nearly all the artifacts that Heutz has in his chateau. This, to me, seems like the narrator wishes he could live a life of wealth and ease; the fact that H. de Heutz uses the same cover that the protagonist of the story uses to weasel his way out of getting shot, and later tells his lover (who is a blonde, just like K) to meet him at the same hotel where the narrator and K plan to meet show undeniable parallels between these two individuals. Another aspect that was interesting was the questionable insanity of the author/narrator/protagonist. He goes through bouts of paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and failure to grasp reality, and this makes the book that much more intense. I also like how the ending to the novel is unresolved, and we don’t know what happens to the narrator or how his story really ends. Overall, this novel really was an insight to the mind of a true revolutionary, and I think Aquin is a genius. -

Hubert Aquin, Shifting Sands, Trans. by Joseph Jones, Ronsdale Press, 2009.

This bilingual edition is the first English translation of Aquin's ground-breaking novella. Alone in exotic Naples, an impassioned Franois anticipates the arrival of girlfriend HŽlne. Uncertainty and impatience warp his waiting into an obsessive mŽlange of recollection and speculation. His interior monologue threads its way through a disorienting universe of claustrophobic dilapidated hotel rooms, hostile incomprehension in the streets of a foreign city, and a train station where rendezvous cannot occur. Unremitting psychological exploration drives the narrator towards extreme personal apocalypse. In this novella the young Aquin turns away from ordinary narrative toward the signature qualities of his later writing. Frank sexuality, grotesque imagery, and autobiographical context helped to keep this story from being published. Joseph Jones' accompanying essay situates the novella with reference to other works where psychic conditions generate a striking literary representation that seems to operate largely outside of any conscious tradition.

The Invention of Death—Cover.jpg

Hubert Aquin, The Invention of Death, Quattro Books, 2013.

The Invention of Death is a translation of Hubert Aquin's novel, L'invention de la mort, written in 1959 and remaining unpublished until 1991. Journalist René Lallemant looks back on the jealousy and adultery that marked his relationship with Madeleine Vallin. Caught in a state between madness and despair, René explores his current existential fatigue in the form of a personal journal, documenting the self-destructive thoughts that lead to his eventual suicide.

Hamlet's Twin by Hubert Aquin
Hubert Aquin, Hamlet's Twin, McClelland & Stewart, 2013.

Written as a screenplay, Hamlet’s Twin chronicles the unusual honeymoon of a contemporary young couple, Nicholas and Sylvie Vanhesse, as they travel to Norway, and, eventually, to a mythical archipelago near the North Pole. Nicholas, while playing Fortinbras in a television production of Hamlet, becomes obsessed with the thought that Fortinbras was Hamlet’s estranged twin. His trip to Norway becomes a symbolic journey towards claiming his own rights and achieving his own revenge. Hubert Aquin’s Hamlet’s Twin is as tragic and as full of self-conscious riddles as its namesake.

Hubert Aquin, Writing Quebec: Selected Essays of Hubert Aquin,

Hubert Aquin, Blackout, House of Anansi Pres, 1983.

The latest addition to my website is Hubert Aquin‘s Trou de mémoire (Blackout). This is the story of two men who have a few things in common. Pierre X Magnant and Olympe Ghezzo-Quénum are both political revolutionaries, both pharmacists and are both having an affair with a (different) English woman, who happen to be sisters, though, by the time the novel starts, Magnant has just murdered his lover, Joan. Magnant is Canadian while Ghezzo-Quénum is Ivorian. Their paths intertwine, initially because Ghezzo-Quénum contacts Magnant about his revolutionary activities but later because Magnant seems to pursue the surviving sister, Rachel. While initially it seems to be a straightforward tale of psychopathy, it turns out to be more complicated than that as we learn that the various narrators are almost certainly unreliable, with even Magnant’s confession of murdering Joan suspect. Relatively few French Canadian novels are translated into English but this one has been though is sadly quite difficult to obtain in English translation.-

Hubert Aquin, Antiphonary, House of Anansi Press, 1973.

Hubert Aquin
Though Hubert Aquin (1929–1977) was born and died in Montreal, he spent much time abroad, especially in Paris and Switzerland. Today he is considered by Quebec and by Canada as one of our greatest authors. He also took an interest in radio and television, as well as film; for a number of years he worked for the National Film Board of Canada.
But above all else he is known for his novels, and especially Next Episode. The work has sold regularly at the rate of 1500 copies a year since its publication in 1965 — a significant figure for Quebec and its seven million inhabitants.
Aquin was offered a Governor General’s award for his second novel Blackout, but refused the award, received the Prix de La Presse for his third novel The Antiphonary, and was awarded the Prix de la Ville de Montréal for Hamlet’s Twin, his fourth and last novel. In 1972, he received the Prix David for his entire body of work.
Since his death in 1977, Aquin’s oeuvre has been and continues to be the object of numerous journal articles and academic dissertations, not only in Canada but in France, Italy, Germany and elsewhere — all countries where his work is taught.


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