Hubert Aquin Roland Bourneuf - Essay

Roland Bourneuf

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As has been frequently pointed out, the problem of individual and national identity is fundamental in Hubert Aquin's [first] three novels—so fundamental, in fact, that it can perhaps be considered their focal point. Aquin likes to present characters who are "abnormal" in some sense. Either they must contend with intense pressure from the outside (the risk of imprisonment and psychoanalysis in Prochain épisode), or they are under the influence of drugs (in Trou de mémoire), or else they have undergone traumatic experiences (the narrator of L'antiphonaire is raped, and then watches from a distance as her seducer is murdered by her husband). The narrators in all of these stories attempt to escape inner disintegration through the act of writing; for them … writing becomes a question of life or death. Mental confusion gives way to, or rather coexists with, acute awareness: by inventing doubles for themselves or by identifying with historical personages, Aquin's characters can appear and disappear in a multiplicity of guises. In one sense, what is important in these narratives is that most of the narrators are French Canadians who consider themselves as such and who feel the inertia of an immense sleeping country behind them. The revolutionary narrator in Prochain épisode imagines a counter-revolutionary character who is out to thwart the F.L.Q.; the narrator pursues him but does not kill him as he should, so that both the act and the story are left hanging. The structure of Trou de mémoire is more complex; it includes several narratives that are all connected with the murder of a young woman, Joan, by her lover, Magnant, a revolutionary Québécois who pursues and rapes Joan's sister, to the despair of her lover, Olympe, a Nigerian who catches up with Magnant in Montreal, and so on. A succession of narratives, with each one refuting the others, creates a very disturbing effect. The book is first presented as a "critical edition" of Magnant's journal, with intentionally redundant footnotes that waylay and vex the reader with useless details. Then the "editor" takes over and casts doubt on everything that has been said previously: Magnant had not gone to Africa, and so on. Then Joan's...

(The entire section is 913 words.)