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Jean-Michel Fortier's The Unknown Huntsman, Cora Siré's Behold Things Beautiful and Kaie Kellough's Accordéon, reviewed

The Unknown Huntsman

By Jean-Michel Fortier, translated by Katherine Hastings

QC Fiction, 192 pages, $19.95

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Monday evenings the village meets in the church basement to dispense provincial justice. Gossip, innuendo, outright slander, grandstanding, scapegoating, meddling and deflection: neighbour weighs neighbour's deeds of the past week. The village rests at the end of a road on the edge of a forest – no one from outside the village has reason to go there, and as the village sees it, that's for the best. Much of the village meets again on Fridays, secretly, at the behest of their mysterious leader. Then, the local hairdresser receives a bullet between the eyes. At the Monday meeting the village blames a huntsman, an unknown huntsman, but who is he? And who is the "we" who narrates this novel? And who is the Professor who inspires such slavish devotion and selective memory in his followers? The questions come to a head with the arrival of a stranger. An absurdist fable bringing to mind Pirandello, Fortier's debut is a dark commentary on community and intolerance.

Behold Things Beautiful

By Cora Siré

Signature Editions, 272 pages, $19.95

After 12 years' exile in Montreal, Alma Alvarez returns to her native Luscano, the place she fled after being held as a dissident prisoner by the country's former murderous regime. Alma returns to a now-democratic Luscano to research an early 20th-century poet, but poetry is why she left: While a student, she published a poem unappreciated by state authorities. Luscano is a small South American country – Montrealers have never heard of it. A joke on Canadian ignorance, yes, but Luscano is also author Cora Siré's invention, an amalgam of Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, and their histories of military dictatorship and "dirty wars" waged against civilians. Why invent such a place when it already exists? One thing it allows Siré is to be at once more specific and more general. A story about personal ghosts, but also – set against the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq – about recurring patterns of repression and violence in the name of security and prosperity.

Accordéon

By Kaie Kellough

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ARP Books, 168 pages, $18.95

From its secret headquarters beneath Mount Royal, the Ministry of Culture dispatches its operatives to surveil the nation and massage its culture toward the liberation of Quebec. But the Ministry has a folkloric nemesis: the flying canoe. "Viewed as a symbolic decolonial event," the canoe rises when the social hierarchy is contested: the Oka Crisis, for instance, or the 2012 student strike. The canoe is indigenous technology, it may be the Island of Montreal itself, and it has become "too much a symbol of the unity of all the peoples on this territory," so it is dangerous to the Ministry. Accordéon is the testimony of one who has witnessed the canoe, annotated by Ministry officials who bicker in the footnotes. In this accordion, history compresses: the slave Angélique burns the merchants' quarter in 1734 next to the 1995 referendum. Accordéon nods to Next Episode while surpassing it. A revolutionary cry against the Quebec values charter and its sentiments.

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